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The Erotic Life of Racism

durham and london 2012

The Erotic Life of Racism

Sharon Patricia Holland

duke university press

2012 Duke University Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper $ Designed by Kristina Kachele Typeset in Minion by Keystone Typesetting, Inc. Library of Congress Cataloging-in- Publication Data appear on the last printed page of this book.

You can’t be what you were So you better start being just what you are —Fugazi, ‘‘Bad Mouth’’


Acknowledgments ix

introduction The Last Word on Racism 1

chapter one Race: There’s No Place like ‘‘Beyond’’ 17

chapter two Desire, or ‘‘A Bit of the Other’’ 41

chapter three S.H.E.: Reproducing Discretion as the Better Part of (Queer) Valor 65

conclusion Racism’s Last Word 95

Notes 115

Bibliography 147

Index 161


The Erotic Life of Racism has had several permutations over the last decade. It first started as a book about ‘‘generations’’—a book that, thankfully, Ken Wissoker at Duke University Press suggested I didn’t want to write. It then became a more conventional project by taking on the shape of an introduc- tion, a few chapters demonstrating my theoretical rubric, and a tidy con- clusion. That manuscript made it through the first round of reviews, but it wasn’t yet a book—it hadn’t yet become the project I wanted to write. I thank the readers on that second attempt for su√ering through a fledgling project. In the two years after that second attempt, I began to write a rather long introduction to the existing project—one that comprised some fifty pages or more of analysis. I took this portion of the project to a writing group with Cathy Davidson—it was there that she suggested I siphon o√ the expository chapters of the book and concentrate on the theoretical

side. In that moment, The Erotic Life of Racism began to blossom and take its present shape. The title came before the book itself, calling me to write a book that could measure up in some way to the weight of that phrase. I do not know if I have succeeded in this task. Over the last decade that this project took shape, there have been many people and institutions to which I am indebted. I hope in my brief recounting that I do not forget anyone along the way. I would first like to thank the University of Illinois, Chicago; North- western University; and Duke University for providing generous research funds to support this project, and for providing, perhaps unwittingly, the institutional experiences that continued to demonstrate to me that there was a need for it. During a crucial phase in the development of the book, I received a Senior Lectureship in American Studies from the Fulbright Foundation. While teaching two courses at Universidad Complutense (‘‘La Complu’’), I was able to present work that would eventually become part of this book. In particular I would like to thank Isabel Duran Gimenez-Rico, Carmen Mendez García, and Ana Antón-Pacheco Bravo, my wonderful colleagues at the university. I also extend a heartfelt thank you to the graduate students in my feminist theory course—their responses to the articles and books we read were often unpredictable and thoroughly stim- ulating. Thank you for a wonderful five months in Madrid. This book would not have been possible without my colleagues in femi- nist studies, queer studies, and critical race theory. Their work has inspired me to write this little treatise as homage to the brilliance and the fine critique found in the interstices. May they see vestiges of their words throughout these pages, as this one is, I hope, for all of us. I would like to thank Jennifer Brody for pulling the beginnings of this project out of the trash, putting the pieces back together, and setting them on my desk late one night along with some simple words to greet me with my morning co√ee: ‘‘Keep writing this.’’ Thanks to Darcy, who always came through, and to Jacob Mueller whose passion for interdisciplinarity is infectious and whose presence in the class- room I will always miss. To Michael Main, who is among the best of graduate studies assistants and who kept my calendar open for work on this project and often reminded me of where I needed to be and how I

should get there. I still miss you. To my dear friend Chris Messenger, who knows all things Faulkner and whose teaching is impeccable. Thanks also to the graduate students in the University of Illinois, Chicago, seminar that Chris and I taught together. Our readings and discussions in that class- room led to some of the questions that became the conclusion for this project. Thanks to Janet Messenger, whose diversity of talents is an inspira- tion. Thanks also to the graduate students in my Critical Race Theory seminar at Northwestern—they are a fierce group of folks with intellectual acumen and compassion. The seminar was a banner one and I thank you all. To Wannalee Romero whose wit, grace, and serious rigor pushed my research along at a crucial moment—thanks for keeping it all together while I was in Madrid. To Robin, Nicole, and Folayemi whose voices in my undergraduate seminar on feminist literature still ring, and whose visits to my o≈ce hours were always delightful and a welcome break from the e-mails and committee responsibilities. To Anna Kivlan, who worked tire- lessly on copyediting and checking notes for accuracy, often filling in miss- ing information and providing crucial last-minute library searches for materials. Toward the end of the project I made my first return trip to Chicago, where I had spent the better part of the last decade. I thank Greg Laski, Wannalee Romero, and Melissa Daniels for welcoming me back with open arms—I will always remember that homecoming evening. To my Chicago family, words cannot express how much I miss you and hold you in my heart always. Lisa Freeman and Heather Schmucker, thanks for being my homegirls and for holding me when I need it most. Jennifer Brier and Kat Hindmand, I miss your warmth and love. I give thanks to Judith Sensibar for her help with the Faulkner section and for her encouragement, and I thank David Sensibar for his love of wine and support of all of my en- deavors. Thanks also to Judy Raphael and Tony Philips whose creative vision has touched me in more ways than I can count. To E. Patrick Johnson and Stephen Lewis, I remember you both every time I sit down to a beautiful meal. To Mark Canuel, for his friendship and Capricorn love. To Johari Jobir, your intellectual companionship is sorely missed—Ralph Lauren is holding a table for us. Toward the end of writing this book, I purchased eight acres and moved into the woods at the back of a watershed. I did not know it at the time, but

the land I now call ‘‘home’’ was once part of one of the largest black farmsteads in North Carolina. A friend suggested that I call it ‘‘Sweet Negritude’’—the land here signals all the permutations of the life, love, and mystery of blackness. I give thanks to all of my friends in North Carolina who have kept me going through three very di≈cult years—Kim Turk, Cate Smith, and Bruce, Doreen, Josie, and Katie Sanfelici. To Christine Callan at Copa Vida and Tracy Gill at Joe Van Gogh, thanks for keeping the co√ee going while I wrote, revised, and wrote again. To Laurabelle and the gang at Watts for keeping me fed and letting me laugh out loud. To Kathy Rudy whose love of animals matches my own, and to Kristine Stiles whose friendship is steady and enduring. To Shelba and Starr, bright lights in the Carolina sky. To all the horses, hounds, and humans at Terrell’s Creek— thanks for welcoming me and helping me enjoy the ride. With the animals on my mind: to Samar and Ebenezer, who I long for every day, and to Winnie and Webster, who run away but always come back home. I also would like to thank Ken Wissoker and Jade Brooks at Duke University Press for their faith in this project, and of course, thanks to my meticulous readers whose generosity of engagement was more than any author could expect or ask for. The last group of thanks goes to my family, near and far. To Yoshi Campbell—your love for me is unwavering and I am proud to call you ‘‘sister.’’ To my homegirls Sylvia Villarreal and Tae Hart who know me. To Tom, Ella, and Muriel Beyer—see you at the Cape again for another jelly- fish rights symposium. To Meta Dewa Jones and family—steady, wise, and always there for me. To Ryan and Liz Ananat—I am proud in so many ways, not least among them to be the ‘‘grandmother’’ of your little one. To Anne Cubilie, who knows how to cut through bullshit like a knife through butter—thanks for taking me through the fire. To Etan Nasreddin-Longo who sees all things and just knows. To Kathleen J. McCabe—a writer’s writer and whose advice, friendship, and careful eye helped to bring this project home. Thanks to my mother for being the fiercest protector of my righteous mind. And finally to the Holland clan (Lexus, Flip, and Jackie)— we take a licking and keep on ticking—but especially to Jackie, whose big heart is something to aspire to.

Dismayingly, institutionalized racism and prejudice endure too, long after the abolition of slavery, or the desegregation of public institutions, or the protest marches or the shattering acts of violence. Racism, it turns out, can take the heat. —Joy Gregory, on her adaptation of Studs Terkel’s ‘‘Race: How Blacks and Whites Think and Feel about the American Obsession’’

Most horrific acts committed by one person against another occur as small thoughtless gestures under mundane, if not trite, circumstances. —Jennifer Culbert, ‘‘Beyond Intention’’

The erotic is the mode of subjective communication. —Deborah Bergo√en, ‘‘Out from Under’’

It is time to recognize the political dimensions of erotic life. —Gayle Rubin, ‘‘Thinking Sex’’


The Last Word on Racism

A few days after Tupac Shakur’s death in 1996, I pulled into a Safeway park-

ing lot in Palo Alto, California, with my friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Danielle. We were listening to one of Shakur’s songs on the radio; because he was a hometown boy, the stations were playing his music around the clock—a kind of electromagnetic vigil, if you will. An older (but not elderly) woman with a grocery cart came to the driver’s side of my car and asked me

to move my vehicle so that she could unload her groceries. The tone of her

voice assumed fruition—it was not only a request but a demand that would surely be met. The Southerner in me would have been happy to help; the critic in me didn’t understand why she simply couldn’t put her groceries in on the other side where there were no other cars or potential impediments. I told the woman that I would gladly wait in my car until she unloaded her

groceries—that way, there would be plenty of room for her to maneuver.

While she did this, I continued to listen to Shakur’s music and talk with Danielle. We were ‘‘bonding,’’ and I was glad that she was talking to me about how Shakur’s death was a√ecting her and her classmates. When I noticed that the woman had completed her unloading, I got out and we walked behind her car toward the Safeway. What happened next has stayed with me as one of the defining moments of my life in Northern California. As we passed the right rear bumper of her car, she said with mustered indignation, ‘‘And to think I marched for you!’’ I was stunned at first— when something like this happens to you, you see the whole event in slow motion. I recovered and decided that I had two options: to walk away without a word or to confront the accusation—to model for Danielle how to handle with a modicum of grace what would surely be part of the fabric of her life as a black woman in the United States. I turned to the woman and said, ‘‘You didn’t march for me, you marched for yourself—and if you don’t know that, I can’t help you.’’

When average people participate in racist acts, they demonstrate a pro- found misreading of the subjects they encounter. The scene related above dramatizes a host of racialized relations: the expectation that black women will cease a connection with their own families in order to respond to the needs of white persons; the comprehension of a refusal to do so as a criminal act; the need to subject black bodies to the rule of race; and the absolute denial of the connection between seemingly disparate peoples that the phrase ‘‘civil rights march’’ connotes. For that woman in the parking lot, the civil rights struggle was not about freedom for us all, it was about acquiring a kind of purchase on black life. I would be given the right to participate in ‘‘democratic process,’’ but the ability to exercise the auton- omy inherent in such a right would be looked upon with disdain and, at times, outrage. The scene from the parking lot stays with me as if the woman and I were locked in a past that has tremendous purchase on my present. In my mind, we hover there touching one another with the lie of di√erence and non- relation balancing precariously between us—like the characters Rosa and Clytie at war on the dilapidated staircase in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, a scene I explicate at some length in the conclusion of this book. The psychic violation of that moment in the parking lot haunts me still;

but it is the intimacy of that moment that arrests me. That woman expected something from me—one usually does not expect anything from strangers. Moreover, our connection as women, tenuous though it might have been, was completely obscured, if not obliterated, by this racist act. It was then that I began to think about ‘‘race’’ under the auspices of racism, the thing that according to the epigraph for this chapter ‘‘endures.’’ Racism defends us against the project of universal belonging, against the findings, if you will, of the human genome project. Racism, after all, ‘‘can take the heat.’’ Perhaps racism can take the heat because of its ‘‘uni- versal’’ appeal. One of the first tenets of critical race theory is that ‘‘rac- ism is ordinary.’’ For scholars of critical race theory, ‘‘racism’’ is almost always articulated as an everyday occurrence, as pedestrian rather than spectacular, although we have seen evidence of its gendered spectacularity through historical watersheds such as Emmett Till (both then and now) and James Byrd. In this project my first grounding is in the work of critical race theory, with the understanding that everyday racism defines race, interprets it, and decrees what the personal and institutional work of race will be. My second grounding is in the work of sexuality studies and queer theory; both are critical projects dedicated to various articulations of the erotic lives of individuals. In this book I will demonstrate that although contemporary sexuality studies and queer theory have committed themselves to a thor- oughgoing analysis of racist practice, rarely do they actually succeed in this endeavor. Can work on ‘‘desire’’ be antiracist work? Can antiracist work think ‘‘desire’’? What would happen if we opened up the erotic to a scene of racist hailing? In this work I attempt to enrich conversations about our erotic life and our racist practice. I contend that it is possible to have both conversations at the same time, and in the same space of such intimate subjugation. Racism requires one to participate in what I would call a project of belonging if the work of producing racial di√erence(s) is to reach fruition. I have used the phrase ‘‘project of belonging’’ to signify two sets of relations. One is a ‘‘real,’’ biological connection, a belonging that occurs at the level of family (blood relation). A crude understanding of race is that it is always already the thing that happens in the blood: think ‘‘one-drop rule,’’ ‘‘blood quantum,’’ ‘‘blueblood,’’ or ‘‘sangre pura.’’ The second set of relations is the

result of the work of identifying with others, a belonging usually imposed by a community or by one’s own choice. Given the slipperiness of identity, identifying with others can be a fictitious and fantastic undertaking. Fan- tasy, of course, can oscillate between delusion and creative hope. As Robert Miles and Malcolm Brown observe, ‘‘In the everyday world, the facts of biological di√erence are secondary to the meanings that are attributed to them.’’ Here it is meaning that matters. In the purely existential account- ing, human beings make meaning everyday and we have come to under- stand, like Miles and Brown, that such matter(s) creates the materiality of race. My work in The Erotic Life of Racism interrogates the meaning of such creative ambitions and argues that we don’t create meaning as much as we reproduce it. Joy Gregory’s words given in the first epigraph ground racism in what appears to be the long history of black su√ering in the United States. In short, desegregation, abolition, and protest marches conjure black bodies so very readily; it is almost as if we think of those events as belonging to ‘‘the black experience’’—and in many ways they do. What I want to open up here is the possibility that these events might not only signal black physical and political forms, but also mark a profound revision of the place we have come to know and call home. What if these histories no longer belonged to a people but instead comprised what we mean when we say the word ‘‘American’’? I want to argue that when we see and say ‘‘race,’’ regard- less of how much we intend to understand race as being had by everyone, our examples of racial being and racist targets are often grounded in black matter(s). In this instance, the black body is the quintessential sign for subjection, for a particular experience that it must inhabit and own all by itself. What better way to think about how this conjuring of the black body works than through the anecdote with which I begin this book. I use this incident not to make a point about its universality and thus elevate it to privileged status (although I know that at some point this might be un- avoidable), but rather to elicit both the intimacy and the quotidian nature of racism. A scene of everyday racist practice opens in two directions: one in which the scene focuses relentlessly upon the individual, seemingly to the exclusion of such leitmotifs of antiracist struggle as structure and caste; and the other in which the event unravels a series of dependencies and

intimacies both unexplored and unexplained. It is this latter direction that I hope the reader will both follow and find intriguing. In the final analysis quotidian racism can seem rather unremarkable; my point is to bring what cannot be remarked upon without some embarrassment to fuller recogni- tion and accounting. To this end, that woman in the parking lot wanted a connection with me—one solidified through time and place by a history, a genealogy that she could readily attach to me. In short, she hailed me, and rather than respond in kind, I spoke. To make matters worse, my tiny little speech act in a Safeway parking lot became a contentless utterance—which was confirmed by her look of surprise, if not horror, when I opened my mouth. Her pronouncement was not designed to elicit a response, it was fashioned to keep me in my place. My retort o√ered her an alternative model—a refraction rather than a reflection of her own situatedness. As Toni Morrison once reminded us, ‘‘Definitions belong to the definers not the defined.’’ Clearly.

Where racism imposes racial purity, however, law and practice will code identification across di√erences as impossible—even if it happens, even if it is real. Even though every human visage and quotidian encounter bears witness to miscegenation’s imprint, miscegenation remains an impossibil-

ity; we are still made to choose a category, to state who our people are, and to relate to one cultural mode of being over and against another as if categories, communities, and belonging are positioned in finite relation- ship. As Adrian Piper notes in her essay ‘‘Passing for White, Passing for

Black’’: ‘‘In this country,

ranks up there with family incest, murder, and suicide as one of the bit- terest and most di≈cult pills for white Americans to swallow.’’ It is inter- esting that Piper counts incest as one of the holy trinity of family travesties; as scholars of Southern history and literature in particular have indicated, incest is frequently miscegenation in the Southern imaginary. In other words, because of chattel slavery we cannot readily separate the practice of incest and the occurrence of miscegenation. We can’t have one without the other, yet we are so confused about the matter of race—who has it, how did we get it, is it just ‘‘culture’’ after all—that we have managed to spin exciting yarns about its place in our ‘‘family’’ histories. π For example, more than twenty years ago I discovered that my father’s father was in fact a ‘‘white’’

the fact of African ancestry among whites

man, and it took me another decade to call him ‘‘grandfather’’ with any real conviction. I use the phrase ‘‘blood strangers’’ to articulate this cognitive dissonance in order to mine the contradiction between human practice and collective (mis)understanding. While race creates the possibility for blood strang- ers, it also employs its primary ally and enforcer, ‘‘racism,’’ to police the imaginary boundary between blood (us) and strangers (them). Racism transforms an already porous periphery into an absolute, thereby making it necessary to deny all kinds of crossings. Moreover, even when those crossings appear less obvious—when women appear together in a quoti- dian scene of racist violence, for example—racism succeeds in breaking the tacit connection between them. In other words, racism irrevocably changes gendered relationships. Racism can also be described as the emotional lifeblood of race; it is the ‘‘feeling’’ that articulates and keeps the flawed logic of race in its place. When assessment is on the line, the ‘‘races’’ take their seats at the American feast of di√erence. This is the catch-22 of race: it renders theorizing about ‘‘it’’ impossible because it stabilizes identity for those who impose it and for those who work to expose it. In this book I seek to mine the interstice between the insistence of critical race theory upon the ‘‘ordinary’’ in racist practice and the call by queer theory for us to take care of the feeling that escapes or releases when bodies collide in pleasure and in pain. This interstice is the moment—the blip in time—that is of great importance to my work here. Ω We focus on race, but rarely on the everyday system of terror and pleasure that in varying propor- tions makes race so useful a category of di√erence. But siting and citing everyday racism is almost like stating a belief in the paranormal. Racism dismembers the ‘‘real’’—so robs and eviscerates it that nothing and no one can appear as ‘‘whole’’ in its strange and brutal refraction. One of the chief arguments of my project is that race coheres in the everyday practice of familial belonging. Since ‘‘the family’’ has not only been the cornerstone of liberal ideology but also black community belong- ing, it is important to ask—nearly 150 years after the abolition of slavery— whether or not the preservation of the idea of the ‘‘black’’ family is working for us. This is not a query that can be politely asked or answered but it is a necessary one, and this project seeks to begin not by rehashing the race/ culture debate but simply by asking if the same sca√olding that applies to

quotidian racist practice might not also be the same structure that en- genders the survival of the core concept of blackness, especially as such a concept relates to notions of familial and community belonging. The turn toward the quotidian is not one that focuses on prejudice but rather on the discretionary acts and, yes, racist practices that each of us make in everyday decisions such as choosing someone to sit beside on the subway, selecting a mate or a sperm donor, or developing a list of subjects for an academic study. The autonomy usually attached to erotic choices should be reevalu- ated to think through these attachments. In order to worry that every day, to think about how much racism demands of us, from us, this book returns to that somewhat banal pairing otherwise known as the black/white binary. Such a return, to echo Hor- tense Spillers, might be ‘‘embarrassing’’ or ‘‘backward.’’ When race be- comes the basis for social organization—determining and fixing not only what we are to others, but also defining who we are—it gains an immu- tability that neither pro nor con can shake—it gains ontological might and becomes ‘‘too high to get over, too low to get under.’’ This book moves in the direction of prevailing work in critical race theory—toward racism and away from race—with one, if not two, caveats. It is my contention that we cannot get away from the black/white binary while thinking through the work of racism. In calls to abandon the black/ white dichotomy for more expansive readings of racism’s spectacular ef- fects, critics often ignore the psychic life of racism. What appears as an opening up or an expansion of the territory from ‘‘race and racism’’ to ‘‘rac- isms’’ might simply be a misrecognition of the primary work of racism. In the beginning moments of Against Race, Paul Gilroy o√ers the reflection that ‘‘black and white are bonded together by the mechanism of ‘race’ that estrange them from each other and amputate their common humanity.’’ Gilroy’s visceral insight is a testament to the fact that we cannot get away from our interpretation of the primary work of race at the junction of black and white; the estrangement that Gilroy alludes to is odd, given that rela- tions between the two are and have been so intimately articulated. While I do not want to contest that globalization indeed has resulted in a proliferation of ‘‘racisms,’’ I do want to insist stubbornly that the psychic life of racism can best be read in the context of the United States in the space where black and white intersect, where the outer limit of doing and

being are exercised and felt by those who seek to negotiate their place at the ‘‘American’’ table. I say this even as someone who has great investments in the fields of Afro-Native and Native American studies. What I am driving at here is simple: even though critics want to move away from a black/ white binary toward a more ‘‘open’’ field of inquiry, the way in which we understand how racism manifests itself is through a black/white example that belies a very static, but necessary, repetitious reading of racist practice. What work, critical or otherwise, have we performed to move beyond an interaction that to begin with we barely have been able to be truthful about (to ourselves, to others)? If anything, the chatter on the left and on the right during the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in 2008 assures us that we are by no means ready to give up the binary. It performs a fantastic service for us. In this book I seek to correct a consistent misreading of racist practice. Too often the insidiousness of slavery casts a long shadow over the inter- pretive work that we perform; in our e√ort to uncover a terrible wrong, ‘‘a woeful shame,’’ ‘‘a national embarrassment,’’ we sometimes want to read the present as if it actually lived in this same dreadful past. We exist in a kind of Nietzschean ethics—where the present is consistently the past’s particular factotum. π In this drama the parts are cast and we play them to their fullest, and because these relations have been cemented it is di≈cult for us to see beyond them to something else that might motivate us. This familiar reiteration in black and white has an equal and opposite upshot: it prevents ‘‘slavery’’ (writ large) from being seen in all of its formative mach- inations. Instead, slavery is relegated to its black and white players in a past, which desperately needs to be forgotten. I am not sure if that something else alluded to above exists or is even worth our contemplation, because to move forward in this moment, given all that has happened, would surely be like committing suicide—of a generational sort. But, at the risk of being contrary, this project goes to that territory. The theoretical exploration I make here encourages us to reimagine the connection between black and white and to open up the interstitial and charged space between critical race theory and queer theory. This text and its readings therefore serve as an arrest in a seemingly perpetual critical backward motion. In queering the inquiry, for example—in returning to the black/white binary and asking what really happens or happened there

—we might be able to consider, at least for a moment, what our ‘‘pleasure’’

might look like; what being together, figuratively and literally, might yield —aside from, at times, the miscegenated being. As I mentioned earlier, I am also aware that such a focus on the black/white binary in terms of queer studies might seem backward in and of itself. As Tavia Nyong’o

can present itself as being explicitly ‘about’ race,

class, and sexuality while continuing to serve the function of regulation

and discipline. A major aspect of this regulation

between straight and queer, that is

produced and reproduced within cultural forms both sophisticated and otherwise.’’ Ω In this book I want to defrost that signal dialectic—to revise the black/white encounter’s oppositional narrative to speak to us across place and (in)appropriate time. So often our ‘‘racist’’ culture is held as separate and apart from our desiring selves. To think about desire is to arrive at a queer place. But I do not mean for that queer place to become overdetermined by its association with desire, with the erotic. In essence, I am opening the door to a notion of the ‘‘erotic’’ that oversteps the category of the autonomous so valued in queer theory so as to place the erotic—the personal and political dimen- sion of desire—at the threshold of ideas about quotidian racist practice. As Simone de Beauvoir reminds us in The Second Sex: ‘‘The erotic experience is one that most poignantly reveals to human beings their ambiguous condition.’’ It is this striking ambiguity that not only brings us back to the quotidian but also to the strange and often violent modes of racist prac- tice. I use the erotic also to capture some sense of its historical connection to feminist phenomenological thought, a process that I outline in chapter 2 of this book. When I invoke the phrase ‘‘queer place,’’ I am thinking of queers here in much the same way as Randall Halle understands this constituency: ‘‘Not the acts in which they engage but rather the coercive norms that place their desires into a position of conflict with the present order.’’ My project comes from the other end of that question; rather than see desire as the force that ‘‘conflict[s] with the present order,’’ I enlist the erotic as a pos- sible harbinger of the established order. In doing so, I want to imagine what happens to the ‘‘white’’ side of the equation—what happens to whiteness in close proximity to blackness—and what happens to our conceptualization

between black and white, and

is the frozen dialectic

points out, ‘‘theory

of the ‘‘us’’? At the outset, it is important to note that I do not attempt, in the words of Michael Hames-García, to ‘‘recast questions of race into the language of desire.’’ Rather, by thinking about racism as quotidian prac- tice, much like the critical race theorists whom I deeply admire, I under- stand racism as wielding incredible power in its ordering of family, genera- tion, and desire—in both black and white. The focus on moving ‘‘beyond’’ race and its black/white binary—a con- dition I myself have wished for and often depended upon—actually speaks to a persistent problem inherent in the black/white encounter: namely, that this crossing seems impossible; that this crossing almost never hap- pens. In other words, what happens when someone who exists in time meets someone who only occupies space? Those who order the world, who are world-making master time—those animals and humans who are perceived as having no world-making e√ects—merely occupy space. When James Baldwin asked, ‘‘How much time do you want for your progress?’’ he was marking this dichotomy. If the black appears as the antithesis of history (occupies space), the white represents the industry of progressive- ness (being in time). It is possible to surmise that resistance to this binary might actually be telling a truth about our sense of time and space instead of a truth about the meeting itself. We often talk of inequalities that emerge in black/white meeting, but we rarely understand those structural impedi- ments and inequalities in terms of the phenomenological readings of time and space. For example, to return to my opening narrative, in that moment in the parking lot I was occupying space; the woman was not only occupy- ing time but also performing her ability to represent its material nature. My temporal immateriality yoked my presence to the needs and desires of my white female counterpart; my inability to serve therefore represented an intrusion upon the woman’s daily activities. I became an a√ront to the order of things, and her comment ‘‘to think I marched for you’’ was an invitation to take my place among the o≈cially sanctioned table of con- tents for black/white herstory and relation. At points in this project I return to the problem of ‘‘history’’ with varying degrees of critical success. In theoretical discourse, generally speaking, we have been bound by a fervent desire to make sure that we are historically grounded. In queer theory especially, this historical arc has been fleshed out through the work of Michel Foucault. While Foucault’s historical trajec-

tory for the invention of the homosexual in the mid-nineteenth century is pathbreaking, it glides over signal events in the Americas such as trans- atlantic slavery or Indian removal as if these events bear no mark upon our sexual proclivities. In this mode of inquiry, a whole array of fruitful belong- ings, imaginings, and gestures can go unremarked upon and ultimately undervalued in critical discourse about sexuality. When the problem of history is laid at our feet, the imagined place for the black body is (re)pro- duced out of the thin air at the critical heights of queer theory. This thin air mires the ‘‘black’’ in absolute relationship to the ‘‘white’’ as if their belong- ing were carved in glacial ice. The air up there is frosty indeed, and to speak about the black body at that atmospheric level is to produce a narrative of degradation to which that body is perpetually mired. My argument with history, therefore, is not about its necessary e≈cacy or its archival rigor; my contention here is with how it is used to either fix a critical trajectory for a discipline (in the case of queer theory especially) or to ground a discussion of race in appropriate histories of black and white peoples in particular. In attempting to wade through the materials in the fruitful critical and fictive exchanges that I highlight, I find that history has a very limited reach where black/white bodies are concerned. As I have stated earlier, even though integration is our gold standard, we seem wholly unable to practice it critically. I begin this book with a scene in a Safeway parking lot, and I end it with a reading of one of the central chapters of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! The material in between is mostly taken from critical theory, and given the stakes of my project—in queerness, blackness, and gender—Faulkner’s sig- nature and very canonical work might seem like an odd capstone. Faulk- ner’s novel is a searing and relentless catalogue of racism’s battle for the American soul. As he observes at one point in Miss Rosa Coldfield’s narra- tive: ‘‘There is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both.’’ π Abrogate. Enemies. Lovers. These words help to mark the compli- cated trajectory of racist practice, and to me it felt perfect to end this book with one of the most articulate manifestos about how to begin the process of repudiating such abrogation. At the same time, my choice of Absalom, Absalom! resists the urge to find

what I term the ‘‘black.female.queer’’ representation as the obvious reposi- tory if not endpoint for a project that as it evolves seeks to find how we lost this representation in the first place. The goal here is to get com- fortable with that loss so that we can account for our forgetting in the first instant while simultaneously marking such a moment by not replacing the representation, by not making the obvious critical move to recover black.female.queer with an appropriate sign of her belonging. The periods in my configuration are meant to place the terms in figurative contestation, reflecting both the ease with which such terms are grouped and the relative incommensurability of the terms in critical conversation. It is my hope that as scholars move through this book they might begin to uncouple their own critical trajectories, if not desires, from their usual embeddedness. My hope, further, is that there might be new spaces opened up for finding what we have lost or forgotten without the customary urge to reestablish the object of our desire, so to speak. In that space of the erotic—the political and the personal—we might be able (if not ready) to revise or even resist the object(s) of our critical desire as we come to understand just what it takes to make the erotic such a generative space. I am interested in outlining one aspect of the critical condition rather than displaying a repertoire of somewhat prescriptive endings to a story that is still unfolding. I open chapter 1 with a sampling of pertinent critical race theory argu- ments about race and racism as a way to explore how such arguments have helped to diversify the critical field of antiracist study. In this chapter I perform what I hope is an important intervention by reading across a spectrum of critical race theory work, thus demonstrating that there is much to be gleaned from concerted attention to the field’s many critical corridors and interdisciplinary claims. In chapter 2, I stage the interface between ‘‘the erotic’’ and ‘‘racist practice’’ by delving into the relationship between feminist theories of the erotic from the mid to late twentieth cen- tury and how these theories have paved the way for the erotic’s disarticula- tion from racist practice. I argue that the erotic gains its autonomy during the feminist sexuality debates in the early 1980s and that such erotic auton- omy becomes central to the articulation of a queer studies project, much to the detriment of a critical antiracist practice. In chapter 3, I return to the kind of inquiry evidenced in the first chapter, as I read across a range of

queer studies work that positions itself in response to an overwhelmingly (white) queer theory. Given what the black/white binary tells us (or does not) about racist practice, I argue that the continual staging of one (racial) project over and against the other serves to harness black.female.queer (a constellation that I use throughout that chapter) in static relation to queer studies as a whole, such that this body (of work) is literally lost as an active critical voice. Finally, in the conclusion I perform a reading of Jacques Derrida’s ‘‘The Last Word on Racism’’ / ‘‘Racism’s Last Word’’ and his theory about ‘‘touch’’ in the context of one of the most important black/ white interactions in American literature—the meeting of Rosa Coldfield and Clytie Sutpen on the staircase during the only chapter narrated by Miss Rosa in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! In speaking to my classes on critical race and sexuality theory over the years, it has become clear to me that our methodology for thinking through the queer body can be cited along three registers: the psycho- analytic, the critique of global capital, and the biopolitical. This project will move through a range of work dedicated to these epistemological registers but will resist the temptation to be seduced by one method of inquiry over another. My attempt here is to redirect our theoretical under- pinnings, and my implicit question is whether or not these discourses are aiding us in our attention to the specter of racist practice that intermit- tently haunts queer studies conferences. Ω In many ways the responsibility for ‘‘fixing’’ the problem of race in academic discourse seems to have landed in our queer laps. But why? What is the underexplored connection between sexuality and race that makes us believe we can solve for x when other disciplinary endeavors have seemed unable to do so or have aban- doned the project altogether? What can queer theory’s desire do for under- standing racist practice? Perhaps there is an answer to this question in the early work of Hortense Spillers, when she observes that during relations under chattel slavery, ‘‘whether or not the captive female and/or her sexual oppressor derived ‘pleasure’ from their seductions and couplings is not a question we can politely ask. Whether or not ‘pleasure’ is possible at all under conditions that I would aver as non-freedom for both or either of the parties has not been settled.’’ Spillers’s query loosens the neat connection between the nineteenth-century homosexual and the queer community of the early twenty-first, thereby making their reliance upon pleasure/desire

as a defining matrix less edifying, more problematized, and somehow less clearly autonomous as it once seemed. In this book I intervene at two levels, one academic and one beyond the academy in a historical moment in the United States that wants desperately and unconvincingly to call itself ‘‘postracial.’’ On the academic level, I reunite theoretical arguments that, increasingly, have lost touch with one another—as if once upon a time they didn’t have a history to share and a future at stake together. As we have seen, these two theoretical stances are critical race theory and queer theory. I am insisting that critical race theory and queer theory must come back together in this moment to resolve key issues and understandings in much the same way that my undergraduate and graduate students insisted that I do in terms of being clear about the connection between the two—a demand that was not always adequately met on my part. When I realized that I had no working roadmap for confluence and/or dissention is the point at which I began the work that became the heart of this project. While both critical race theory and queer theory have taken a rich and fruitful transnational turn—one that also carries with it a legacy of nonidentitarian, multiple issue layering—in this historical moment, both within academic theory and beyond, I insist that in the erotics of the old black/white binary we understand not only racism but potentially our erotic selves. I am not in any way saying that global understandings don’t matter. They do. There are also local, historically situated features of the black/white binary that, in their definitional and oppositional clarity, illu- minate our moment and our academic theories in (un)(re)productive ways. This book returns us, ever again, to the black/white binary that many theorists were happy to leave behind. That glee alone should tell us there is unfinished business—but by no means have we forgotten it, solved it, or even, in the end, addressed it. This all-too-brief glimpse takes a look at the structure in which desire and subjugation, belonging and obligation, are linked in theory and practice. Ultimately, I have not forgotten the details of the scene in that Safeway parking lot, and I never will. In that one hailing denied is embedded an outrageous erotics of racism that in its quotidian expression represents for me an act of profound ontological rupture. A bit of character assassina- tion, for sure, but also an occasion to reflect upon resisting the hailing

through its potential for further theorization. What that moment in the parking lot was designed to engender is the spectacular lie of our separa- tion from one another as communities and individuals on this planet. The Erotic Life of Racism is an experimental exploration in the denial of that hailing, in the stubborn insistence that we do belong to one another de- spite our every e√ort, at home and in the institution, to lose track of, if not forget altogether, such belonging. This book reorders the terrain of critical contact. Because, now as ever, there is no safe way but just an ordinary road that we all must travel, I move to the first iteration of the erotic life of racism.




There’s No Place like ‘‘Beyond’’

It seems that race, like the presumption of innocence, the Hippocratic oath, or ‘‘till death do us part,’’ is too useful a fiction to dispense with. —Richard Thompson Ford, ‘‘What’s Queer about Race?’’

‘‘Race’’ is not what it was. —Paul Gilroy, Against Race

The rhetorical force of race talk is its ability to invoke that wonderful place called ‘‘beyond.’’ If we can divest ourselves of our preoccupation with the past, if we can shed who we are (or have been) to one another, then we can get beyond race. Such joyful overcoming is worthy of a civil rights dirge or a Heideggerian tirade on the ends of (human?) history. But as time ticks on, moving beyond looks a lot like getting over. The particular conundrum here in this desire to move beyond, to get over, race is its reliance upon a future in which we will become, at least discursively, productive. In the wake of Johannes Fabian’s classic Time and the Other: How Anthropology Makes Its Object (1983), critics such as Lindon Barrett and Michelle Maria Wright have contributed to the further dismantling of the time/space continuum—otherwise known as the West’s progress narrative—and the centrality of black bodies to modernity’s reimagining of the white self.

As I noted in the introduction, this peculiar overcoming might have its roots in a somewhat pedantic intelligence about the relationship between black and white. It is precisely because the black subject is mired in space and the white subject represents the full expanse of time that the meeting of the two might be thought of as never actually occurring in the same temporal plane; yet the desire to get over such a meeting is immediate and the recovery is often swift. Exactly how does one move beyond a nonevent? How can this encounter be so important to us if these two never literally meet? Or to put it another way, maybe my encounter with the woman in the Safeway parking lot attests to the problem of relation—we meet all the time, but like Faulkner’s Judith and Henry at Sutpen’s Hundred the words we exchange when we happen upon our nonhappening serve as ‘‘brief staccato sentences like slaps’’ that reverberate o√ the walls, corridors, alley- ways, and yes, even parking lots around us. This persistent ordering of such a meeting (one that we usually show up to with script in hand) might lead us to understand the fervent desire to move beyond an encounter that has in fact already occurred in the blood, and yet in time and space remains a nonoccurrence. The (non)happening, and our critical obsession with its potentiality, marks a strange and schizophrenic approach to the very idea of relation. In racist ordering, relation is defined as those who shape time and those who stand outside it, as those who belong to your people, and those who do not. Only grave trespass can produce another order altogether. What makes that parking lot scene so compelling to me is that although my female counterpart certainly wanted to order time for me by manipulating the space I occupied (‘‘move your car please’’), she became the one who turned back the clock, thus changing the terms of the relationship. That con- frontation illuminates the way in which racist logic ensnares even the racist trying desperately to declare the order of things, verbally or physically. By refusing to move in that Bartleby the Scrivener way—politely, I preferred ‘‘not to’’—I challenged her to find another way to move me. And she did; but not without giving up her own stronghold on time’s order of things. To move me she had to situate me in a discourse I would recognize, and in that one moment she looked back past me. Like a rider on a di≈cult horse, she tried to bring me up under her so that we could move forward—a move that in equestrian parlance equals mastery. In that instance, she touched

on the mysterious life force of racist endeavor: in constantly trying to align the world according to a particular ordering, it arrests time rather than attests to its futurity. For her beyond race is nothing of the sort—it is just an order of things in which black (radical) yields to white (liberal). Theoreti- cally speaking, beyond signals a very dangerous turn for antiracist struggle as it reifies nonrelation while simultaneously reinscribing the past (one’s history) in a master-slave dialectic. Such is the order of things. If relation technically happens (two persons, black and white, face to face) but never occurs given the time/space split, then what Eduardo Bonilla-Silva observes holds great purchase on my following review of work in ‘‘race’’ studies. As he notes: ‘‘People cannot like or love people they don’t see or interact with. This truism has been corroborated by social psycholo- gists, who for years have maintained that friendship and love emerge when people share activities, proximity, familiarity, and status.’’ While reorganiz- ing ‘‘status’’ under capitalism in the United States might be more than a small challenge, it is not di≈cult to see that proximity and familiarity can create the conditions to overcome racist practice. Or do they? What if proximity and familiarity don’t create a level playing field of di√erence, but instead replicate the terms upon which di√erence is articulated and there- fore maintained? What if our coming together (all the time) is the thing that we continue not to see as the lie of nonrelation and di√erence rolls o√ our tongues each time we say who we are and where we come from? In the last two decades of humanities scholarship on race and racism, proponents on either side of an increasingly widening gap have moved through the terrains of racialization as social construction, identity poli- tics, critical race theory, and genetics and genomics in order to understand what constitutes so fraught a belonging. For example, as Antonia Darder and Rodolfo Torres, in their own formulation of racism, announce: ‘‘In our analysis ‘race,’ simply put, is the child of racism.’’ By placing race in pseudo-biological relationship with racism, Darder and Torres metaphori- cally reify the problem of biological relationship that makes studies of race and racism so di≈cult to manage. Settling the problem of biological be- longing is the psychic life of race, and race work is always already per- formed by quotidian racism. My project gives depth and shape to the work of racism, arguing first and foremost, as have other Americanists, that racism is not anomalous to quotidian life. The argument here is that

racism orders some of the most intimate practices of everyday life, in that racist practice is foundational to making race matter. Given my earlier preoccupation with (non)relation, I wonder if proxim- ity is the cure for the bad faith of racist practice? In the end, one would wish for more elaboration on Bonilla-Silva’s part: What kind of proximity, what level of familiarity? Are we talking ‘‘family’’ here? If one lives and works in a world primarily populated by phenotypically white people, proximity slowly morphs into the singularity that is monocular. In this instance whose perspective, whose ‘‘see[ing]’’ will matter most? Bonilla-Silva’s contention about the kind of beneficial work that prox- imity and familiarity can do is muddied by Jennifer Richeson and J. Nicole Shelton’s pioneering work on interracial interaction. Proximity at the level of blood relation does not ensure antiracist practice at all. As Richeson and Shelton find: ‘‘Given that interracial contact may be the most promising avenue to prejudice reduction, it is important to examine factors that undermine positive interracial contact experiences, as well as those that facilitate them.’’ In their view, knowing that interracial interactions are cognitively draining is not enough; instead, they suggest ‘‘that it is not the goal to control prejudice per se that results in cognitive depletion but, rather, the cognitive processes that individuals employ (i.e., vigilance, sup- pression, e√ortful self-presentation) to avoid appearing or behaving in prejudiced ways.’’ π This new science about race interaction may be helping us to acknowledge that race may not be on the body, but it certainly is ‘‘in’’ it, as studies such as that of Richeson and Shelton compel us to see certain cognitive machinations as constitutive of the racialized drama we give character to in quotidian life. What are we seeing when we see what we see? Are we uploading the same old script and playing our respective parts or are we letting the situation be? Are racial encounters the amor fati for the twenty-first century? Where any idea of association—in the bedroom, parking lot, or board- room—is repudiated, time matters most when the question of descent shackles biology to it. As beings enter into the symbolic and become subjects—the stu√ from which personhood is crafted—they enter into a history that literally is not their own; history, in terms of descent, belongs to someone else in the sense that not only is it dependent on those who have come before but also on their place in the racial order—a place that, in turn, defines one’s own. Such is the tricky matter of race. As Sonia Sikka,

reading Heidegger and his Volk, argues: ‘‘Descent becomes a determining factor through the way that biology enters ‘history’; that is through the inevitable role that it plays in self-identification.’’ In the racial order of things, black/white subjects who speak of race connect themselves to the historical in a way that di√erentiates one history from the other. The purpose here is to maintain the illusion that there is very little shared historico-biological material. The fact that one has to have a ‘‘history’’ in order to be connected to a people racializes the meaning of ‘‘history’’ and simultaneously locates the idea of being related (to someone) to a quotidian progress narrative, one that can be counted by its black and white parts. Here, a rhetoric of ‘‘beyond’’ gives meaning to the meeting of black and white as a nonevent, as the nonevent allows for bloodlines to articulate themselves in a racially ordered fashion. Put more forcefully, Stuart Hall reminds us that ‘‘the essentializing moment is weak because it naturalizes and dehistoricizes di√erence, mistaking what is historical and cultural for what is natural, biological, and genetic. The moment the signifier ‘black’ is torn from its historical, cultural and political embedding and lodged in a biologically constituted racial category, we valorize, by inversion, the very ground of racism we are trying to deconstruct.’’ Ω Hall’s statement demonstrates the problem the historic plays in attempts to both recognize the black body and deploy it as a signifier for something other than the biological. He argues for the black body’s attachment to the historical, among other categories, by believing that this a≈liation is apart from the ‘‘biologically constituted.’’ But if to have a history is tied to racial homology, if not feeling, then to think the black body in the historical is to connect it to some trace of its biological force. Such belonging is reiterated in black narratives of community that seem to depend upon the link between bio- logical futurity (generations) as historical connection—or in other words the way historical connection is realized is through the biological. In thinking through this particular beyond—the ‘‘reality bites’’ of critical race studies—it might be fruitful to take some time to consider both where critical energies are focused in the discourse on race and what stories about race and racism are consistently rehearsed in that familiar place.

One of my objectives in this chapter is to provide an overview of work in critical race theory that has helped us to arrive at the theoretical crossroads


have articulated as a meeting between critical race and queer theory.

What I outline here is a trajectory for critical race scholarship that has been pivotal in shaping future projects on the nature of race and racism; that contributes in some way to moving my own argument in a particular direction; and that represents some but by no means all of the diversity of work in the field. My hope is that the following redaction will provide an adequate grounding for the intersection I attempt to e√ect in chapter 3. Black feminists such as the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw and the po- litical scientist Cathy Cohen draw upon work in gender studies to compli- cate not only the intersection of conflicting oppressions but also the object of our scholarly inquiry. Crenshaw’s ‘‘Mapping the Margins: Intersec- tionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color’’ (1991) is

a lengthy exegesis of several cultural, political, and structural narratives in

support of her principal claim that critical feminist methodologies about ‘‘women’’ do not apply to the situationality of women of color and black women in particular. Early in her essay, Crenshaw alerts us to the fact that her focus is upon the intersection of gender and race, although, she notes, ‘‘class or sexuality are often as critical in shaping the experiences of women of color.’’ While the notion of intersectionality has come under critique as unwieldy and di√use, and Crenshaw in particular has been criticized for collapsing ‘‘black women’’ into ‘‘women of color,’’ the di≈culty that the next generation of feminists have with Crenshaw’s analysis is not that it attempts to do too much but that it cannot account for sexuality in its framework. Moreover, what intersectionality lacks in Crenshaw’s para- digm is a sound methodology to pair with its critique of prevailing as- sumptions about race and gender. Nevertheless, feminists and critical race scholars have long used her model of the multiple crossings of gender, race, and class, with varying results. Perhaps the most important contribution to the discourse on race made by Crenshaw’s essay is that it was not only a part of early black feminist critiques of poststructuralist thinking, but also that it articulated a way in which social constructionist approaches to theories about race were still useful in scholarly work. As Crenshaw notes: ‘‘One rendition of [the] anti- essentialist critique—that feminism essentializes the category of woman— owes a great deal to the postmodernist idea that categories we consider natural or merely representational are actually socially constructed in a

linguistic economy of di√erence. While the descriptive project of post- modernism, of questioning the ways in which meaning is socially con- structed is generally sound, this critique sometimes misreads the meaning of social construction and distorts its political relevance.’’ It is unfortu- nate that Crenshaw’s reading here is somewhat tautological—as ‘‘meaning’’ interacts with ‘‘social construction’’ as both origin and byproduct. Nevertheless, I would like to point out that Crenshaw helps to shape discussions within feminism about the category of woman and essential- ism that reached their peak with the publication of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990) thus signaling her engagement with central tenants in femi- nist thought. Crenshaw does follow the arc of black feminist critique—a critique that is thoroughly situated against an evacuation of the category of woman for the poststructuralist’s linguistic economy of di√erence. In es- sence, she wants to reserve some room for the material e√ects of social construction. The material e√ects argument has been very successful in keeping alive the social constructionist position within critical race theory —a position that resists the particular flow of poststructuralism’s discur- sivity. For Crenshaw, the social construction of race defines a nuanced politic—one in which ideas about race have material force and therefore phenomenological meaning. In this critical situation we are somewhat betwixt and between: not rid of woman entirely, but not satisfied with her racial makeup either. After Crenshaw’s critique of the political saliency of identity, such a position became harder and harder to maintain within queer theorizing, especially as poststructuralism’s fragmented body gave way again and again to persistent regulatory regimes so that nothing could be written on or in its changing form. As such, the body’s materiality slowly became mere byproduct. What is interesting for my focus in this book is that when the body becomes byproduct—becomes shaped by discourse—it moves away from the e√orts of critical race scholarship to engage its materiality in a dialectical discourse of ‘‘race/racism’’ and finds itself wholly invested in sexuality. Once Foucault gave the (homosexual) body a history it could reiterate for itself as ‘‘the one,’’ not just ‘‘a one,’’ the body wrests itself from the same historical trajectory of materiality that life in the Americas de- manded. Gone are the histories of slavery and removal for this frag- mented, discursively besieged body; what is present is the beautiful life

awaiting it in the realm of all things queer and possible. Is it at this point that the queer body abandons race? As if in response to Crenshaw’s marginalization of sexuality in the land- scape of the intersection, Cathy Cohen’s ‘‘Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics’’ (1997) attempts to re- direct our critical energies in queer studies away from models of respect- able objects of inquiry to those who are the most maligned and mis- understood (hence the title). In doing so, she reminds me of the second wave claim that feminism’s subject was intended to be the most oppressed woman in society. π Cohen’s overall strategy is to probe ‘‘the disjuncture, evident in queer politics, between an articulated commitment to promot- ing an understanding of sexuality that rejects the idea of static, monolithic, bounded categories, on the one hand, and political practices structured around binary conceptions of sexuality and power, on the other.’’ Central to Cohen’s claim here is a call to reimagine the limits of queer critique— expressed at the boundary between hetero and homo—as an occasion to examine what the formation of a ‘‘decentered political identity’’ might look like. Inherent in Cohen’s interrogation is a demand for queer theory to look to its roots in the social movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s and their discursive rationales for more liberating fodder. Ω In other words, Cohen seems to anticipate the advent of ‘‘queer of color critique’’—which makes an attempt to ground a queer critical politics in another monolith otherwise known as ‘‘women of color feminism,’’ through the figure of the sexual outlaw. Cohen takes seriously Gayle Rubin’s claim in ‘‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’’ (1984) that future work in the new sexuality studies would focus upon the most be- sieged sexual minorities. Both Crenshaw and Cohen represent important shifts for work on race and gender, even though many of the critical interventions that followed Crenshaw’s article seem to conceive of race as a genderless space, thus skirting the necessity to speak to gender in any comprehensive or meaningful way. Nevertheless, when critics working in critical race theory need to nod toward gendered relations, they find them- selves at the doorstep of Crenshaw’s work. Historical materialists such as Robert Miles and Malcolm Brown or social constructionists such as the cultural studies scholar Paul Gilroy

would have us understand the importance of race by ridding the critical landscape of this useless fiction. In the case of Miles and Brown, our critical attention is drawn to the invisible and therefore to the mitochondrial war that race, as part of capitalist ideology, wages against oppressed peoples in the name of cultural nationalism. In this instance, a move from the various fictions of race to the work of racism also usually entails the recovery of a class analysis (Miles and Brown) as part of what makes race ‘‘work,’’ thus rescuing race from its stranded location on the highway of identity politics. A lack of attention to the importance of a political econ- omy, a class politics in the discourse of race, has driven scholars such as Stuart Hall and Paul Gilroy to challenge those who insist upon the primacy of race in social relations at the expense of ‘‘class’’—in essence, theirs is a stubborn insistence that economic and political concerns are intertwined. I group Gilroy with Miles and Brown for two reasons: their roots in British cultural studies and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, and their importance to one another as interlocutors. Gilroy’s most sa- lient contribution to ‘‘race’’ studies can be cited in Against Race: Imagining Political Culture Beyond the Color Line (2000). In grappling with identity in particular, he asserts: ‘‘Nobody ever speaks of human identity. The concept orients thinking away from any engagement with the basic anti- anthropological sameness that is the premise of this book’’ (98). By getting away from the particularity of ‘‘identity,’’ which harnesses all human action for the benefit of racial and ethnic stereotype and biological di√erence, Gilroy hopes to arrive at the human. Moreover, Gilroy attempts to move us away from our obsession with a ‘‘racialized biopolitics’’ (185), where one’s identity is irrevocably attached to the body. While Gilroy’s critique has its revolutionary moments, it is still in the social constructionist vein because it posits an afterlife—a beyond—for the body that cannot be sustained by data on race and its material e√ects. For Gilroy, a ‘‘planetary humanism’’ (17) and ‘‘planetary humanity’’ (356) are absolutely necessary. He urges this move even though ‘‘this sharp turn away from African antiquity and to- ward our planet’s future is a di≈cult and delicate a√air, especially if we recognize the possibility that the contested colonial and imperial past has not entirely released its grip upon us’’ (335). At least in Gilroy’s case, we should jettison our reliance upon catastrophic moments of human being for a more apt and futuristic plan; one in which another way of relating

would unfold—an anti-anthropological way of being together. Here the beyond and its temporal frame become the nasty buggers that we just cannot escape. After Lucy it looks like African antiquity is indeed our future, not our past. Gilroy’s work is important to my investigation for three reasons: first, he insists upon a ‘‘planetary humanism,’’ which echoes a more conservative approach to the discourse on race (the ‘‘we are the world’’ approach); second, he beckons to a ‘‘future’’ that moves against a faction of queer theorizing that holds no brief for the ‘‘future’’—embodied by the figure of the (racial) child and therefore heteronormative; and third, he depends upon the black/white dichotomy throughout his work to make evidentiary claims about racist practice, a fact that epitomizes the problem that my book seeks to engage. Gilroy’s formula for beyond circles back to my earlier contention that it might be time for a reassessment of the survivalist mode for black being—a mode steeped in the often faulty logic of blood, belonging, and family, a trifecta that has not paid o√ but still has particular resonance within black life and letters. The direction of Gilroy’s argument moves against the grain of most critical race work where getting beyond race does not reduce its persistence but only reifies its several fictions (I am thinking here of Der- rick Bell’s early work in critical race theory). I admit that Gilroy’s penulti- mate remarks are compelling, and I do think that the question remains of how can that movement, that beyond, involve a vision of the self that does not include the messy materiality of the body? Or a materiality that mires the body in a location it might not want to occupy? Most importantly, Gilroy seems to be asking whether or not ‘‘human’’ systems along the Western time/space continuum are the only systems that matter. There is a very interesting eco-narrative buried in Gilroy’s conclusions, and this is in my view the more profound question that Gilroy poses. If we want to get beyond the body, why is it that these two bodies (black and white) become the primal scene of racist practice? In other words, while there are a myriad of racisms in the world, racist e√ects are grounded when they become proof of something that whites specifically do to blacks. My opening narrative about the incident in the parking lot would seem to solidify this evidentiary paradigm, but I contend that the scene does other work because it is not spectacular but quotidian, and because it speaks to

the twisted logic of race that insists that the body’s materiality can only be cited in a certain register—that its essence is really only skin deep. My argument moves in the direction of the quotidian because I believe that we have yet to understand just what racist practice is, and focusing on the everyday of the trifecta (blood, belonging, family) mentioned earlier might help to locate a racial politic much closer to home than we have imagined heretofore. In my mind the parking lot narrative serves to point out the ways in which we are indebted to race’s faulty logic—that when we make claims for ourselves and others as racialized beings we invariably put an end to con- nection and therefore reproduce the very di√erence that we seek to amelio- rate. Gilroy’s argument highlights the problematic of ‘‘beyond’’ outlined in this chapter. When we want to think of one race, the human race, then we become insensitive to the very real, very material e√ects of racist practice; but when we return to that practice, we can only see something produced by the machinations of large systems like the university or the state. We often only have eyes for the spectacularity of racist practice, not its every- day machinations that we in turn have some culpability in. This desire to see ourselves as exempt from racist violence, no matter how small, is part of the same logic that attempts to excise life choices, erotic choices, from these larger systems. What we would have called racism is now ‘‘personal choice’’ or becomes mildly prejudicial. For example, to say that I am not hurting anyone when I say that I prefer to sleep with one racialized being over another, is to tell a di√erent story about the erotic—one where the autonomous becomes clouded by the sticky film of prejudice morphed into quotidian racism. The erotic, therefore, touches upon that aspect of racist practice that cannot be accounted for as racist practice but must be understood as something else altogether. Having jettisoned race as a false category of di√erence, in their book Racism Miles and Brown take a far more practical approach to their articu- lation of racism by focusing upon the historical emergence of Western nationalisms through capitalism and the importance of racist programs and policies in maintaining the nation-state at the advent of modernity. They eschew ‘‘an analysis of racism’’ in terms of ‘‘a phenotypically identi- fiable victim’’ and note that ‘‘the influence of racism and exclusionary practices is always a component part of a wider structure of multiple

disadvantage and exclusion’’ (17). In particular, they mark the evolution of scholarly work at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies that high- lights changes in Britain in the late 1970s and specifically cites a ‘‘new racism’’ emerging from the shift toward a more global, free-market econ- omy and the phenomenon otherwise known through various cultural studies critics, such as Stuart Hall, as ‘‘Thatcherism’’ (61). One could say that the contemporary semantic equivalent for work on ‘‘Thatcherism’’ is the work on neoliberalism by the new American Left, a connection that makes a stronger argument for critical race work in cultural studies as it is broadly defined. No longer tethered by legal restrictions and cultural iconography, racism in the late twentieth century moves to its under- ground bunker—if it cannot be seen or treated by legal jurisprudence then it simply does not exist. Miles and Brown, moreover, see that focus upon institutionalized racism, specifically in the American context, amounted to the following understanding of the actors in racism’s drama: ‘‘The domi- nant and subordinate groups are usually designated by reference to skin colour, as ‘whites’ and ‘blacks’ respectively. Consequently, racism is, by definition, e√ected (intentionally or otherwise) by ‘white’ people to the disadvantage of ‘black’ people’’ (66). For Miles and Brown this static configuration represents ‘‘a significant deflation of the concept of racism’’ (67). Miles and Brown are important to my project because of the way in which they remind us of the split between American and European conceptualizations of racial formation and its e√ects. π Their explicit contention that racism has been too often considered as something white bodies do to black bodies identifies an important break in the transatlantic view of what racism actually is; for Miles and Brown ‘‘American’’ understandings of race rely too often on models of ‘‘prejudice’’ rather than of ‘‘power’’ (70). By casting Ameri- can understandings of racism as focused on ‘‘prejudice’’ rather than on ‘‘power,’’ Miles and Brown are able to interpret the black/white binary as not only situationally archaic but also worthy of our critical contempt. In the wake of arguments like theirs, scholars working at the intersection of queer theory and critical race theory tended to adopt this widely held view—a view that is constitutive of the transnational turn in critical dis- course. Having thought of all things American as purblind, scholars began to focus on the ‘‘larger’’ picture—a picture in which they themselves play

little part. At this stage I want to reiterate that the turn to the transnational as a critical category has been very fruitful to engagements both at ‘‘home’’ and abroad, especially with regard to the extent to which ‘‘home’’ is neither here nor there for many global and migrant populations. What I am pin- pointing here is the psychic life of that turn and the consequences it has had for studies that focus upon the local rather than the global. Chief among this group would be work in Native studies, which rarely if ever gets taken up by theorists working in the space we now call the ‘‘transnational.’’ By contextualizing the American practice of racism in an archaic view of racial history, Miles and Brown inadvertently construct attention to black/ white relation as a matter of historical record rather than psychic con- tinuum. Once the black/white dynamic is embedded in a history, any appeal to that dynamic creates the condition of backwardness in which negative racialized belonging has been continually mired. In retrospect, Gilroy’s call to move ‘‘from African antiquity’’ also produces racist practice as constitutive of a problematic, though noble past. The question here is how to create a new formula for understanding racist practice in a logic in which it exists rather than through a corporeality that we have come to recognize or a history that belongs to it. Other scholars such as David Theo Goldberg and Philomena Essed join Miles and Brown in challenging scholars in the United States to ‘‘face outwards’’ and move away from a critical race theory mired in ‘‘Ameri- can parochialism.’’ Ω Miles and Brown’s critique of the American academy stems largely from a desire to have ‘‘a concept of racism that has the ability to grasp and comprehend the diversity of the phenomenon to which it refers’’ (86). In this appraisal, the black/white binary occludes our vision, preventing us from recognizing that only a few inches away another being is moving down the same stretch. The charge of ‘‘American parochialism’’ has had a significant impact upon subsequent studies of race and racism in the United States, causing scholars to broaden their inquiries or explain away their inability to do so. It is my contention that this expansion of the discourse to other racisms or other bodies hasn’t diminished the need to rethink the black/white binary and its hold upon exemplary epistemologies. This looking ‘‘out- ward,’’ pace Essed and Goldberg, might not be the remedy for our confused racial feeling.

In the final analysis, it is important to note that Miles and Brown are intent upon thinking of racism as ideology: ‘‘Racism can successfully (al- though mistakenly) make sense of the world and provide a strategy for political action. It follows that, to the extent that racism is grounded in economic and political relations, strategies for eliminating racism should not concentrate on trying exclusively to persuade those who articulate racism that they are ‘wrong,’ but on changing those particular economic and political relations’’ (107; emphasis in original). For those scholars who think of racism as ideologically bound, it is necessarily subtended by a set of economic and political relations. While I don’t want to refute those claims, I do o√er that these sets of relations—economic, political, or otherwise—are attended by a host of perceptions that rupture the binary logic of an ideological paradigm. Quotidian racism in the American tradi- tion might be dependent upon economic and political relations, but it escapes our notice when such relations turn their attention to the procrea- tive possibilities of our erotic lives. In that case, racist action is not only justified but also necessary to prevent slippage into the other—so remark- ably unlike the self. Racism is phenomenologically bound, but it has ex- ceeded the expectations of the bodies it is attached to; bad faith always cuts in more than one direction when procreative license and practice is at stake. I will think through this constellation of possibilities further in chapter 2. In contrast to Miles and Brown, the sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva in Racism without Racists understands racism as an ideology, but he does not give up on the saliency of the black/white binary, at least in terms of how data are collected. In unpacking the concept of ‘‘color-blind racism,’’ Bonilla-Silva focuses upon select data that reveal the justifications by white respondents for discrimination in a post–civil rights era. For Bonilla- Silva, ‘‘subscribing to an ideology is like wearing a piece of clothing. When you wear it, you also wear a certain style, a certain fashion, a certain way of presenting yourself to the world.’’ In essence, Bonilla-Silva not only ac- knowledges that racism, despite our desperate hope, has not disappeared, but that it has a rhetoric, a style through which it survives. In order for this style to be recognized, it has to be reiterated. Moreover, in his review of white attitudes about race and discrimination, he notes that more often than not whites were in the mood to get over the past—and that ‘‘past’’ could usually be represented by the specter of slavery.

One of the primary truths of African Americanist intellectual work is that we are not yet done with slavery—a political stance on the historical that continually thwarts scholarly and well-intentioned e√orts to move beyond it. Many have mistaken this contention either as evidence of a back- ward politic—one that specifically runs contrary to an American bootstrap ideology—or as an instance of the primacy of the black experience to the exclusion of all others in the historical matrix. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I am not proposing here that either of these contentions is unwarranted. Rather, one could only think of ‘‘slavery’’ as specific to the black body if we were to think of it in the narrowest of terms. We are not done with slavery because we have yet to thoroughly investigate its psychic life. This is not to pit the past against the present in a dysfunctional causal relationship (a problematic I pointed out in the introduction to this book). To rethink slavery among us is to take seriously the ways in which its logic of property, belonging, and family reshaped each and every one of those con- cepts irrevocably, as well as the lives of the subjects—black, white, native, Hispanic—who lived within this discursive logic. No one has asked for a return; rather, we have asked for a more thoroughgoing and therefore intel- lectually challenging way of seeing ourselves—past, present, and future. Despite its progressive agenda, Bonilla-Silva’s work still relies on (as almost all qualitative research needs to) the visible divide between black and white to make a point about their (non)relation. How can work that provides an ‘‘unrepentant critique’’ of racism not be mired in race as a biological category? After all, how are scholars going to collect the data? We have to start marking categories and making them work for us at the onset, and this process of categorization can be strikingly similar to the work that racism performs for race. When assessment is on the line, the ‘‘races’’ take their seats at the American feast of di√erence. Perhaps the most important contribution Bonilla-Silva makes is in an- swer to Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s claim in Racial Formation in the United States that ‘‘blacks can be ‘racist’ too.’’ Bonilla-Silva posits:

‘‘The question needs to be rephrased from ‘are blacks as ‘‘racist’’ as whites?’ to ‘are blacks as ‘‘prejudiced’’ as whites.’ I do so because the concept of ‘racism’ as used by most social scientists and commentators is grounded on methodological individualism (the separation of ‘racist’ and ‘nonracist’ individuals) and psychologism (assuming ‘racist’ individuals are patholog- ical, whereas those who are not ‘racist’ are normal). In contrast, I have

attempted to conceptualize racism as a sociopolitical concept that refers exclusively to racial ideology that glues a particular racial order.’’ At the onset of this paradigmatic shift, Bonilla-Silva returns to the prejudice/ power paradigm of Miles and Brown by arguing that racist practice should be reconfigured to ‘‘prejudice’’—a demotion in every sense of the word. This opts blackness out of racist practice so that the subsequent sentences allude to other bodies. In a sense, in this racial order whites are still racist and blacks simply are prejudiced. Nevertheless, Bonilla-Silva’s bold gesture here comes closest to the aims of this project—one that seeks to normalize racism, to move away from ‘‘good’’ or ‘‘bad’’ assessments of its agents (black and white) and toward an understanding of its psychic life and how that life ‘‘glues a particular racial order.’’ The erotic is one particular kind of glue. The attempt here is to cease thinking about that racial order as constitutive of a hierarchy in which whites are on top and blacks are on the bottom—even the more materialist intervention such as Miles and Brown has eschewed such correlation. In chapter 2 I delve into the extent to which one particular set of discussions of the erotic in feminist circles influenced and altered scholarly approaches to the erotic. I am suggesting that a critical reexamination of that process might yield more evidence for how racist practice became untethered from the erotic as well as the subsequent critical maneuvers to somehow reattach the thing that was removed from the collective queer body. What makes race work for us? Why do we need it? In order to push this quotidian exercise toward the work of queer theorizing, I focus on the erotic. The erotic life of racism is the bridge between theories of race and theories of sexuality in all of their diverse complexity. Moreover, by think- ing through the erotic—the personal and political dimensions of desire—I di√er from Bonilla-Silva in that his reliance upon an ideological ordering for understanding racism still assumes that racism is structured in a par- ticular way. But when in the orbit of racism one cannot help but think about being there at all because race talk always wants to be someplace else:

beyond black and white (‘‘Can’t we all get along?’’); beyond the self (‘‘I’m not a racist, but’’); beyond the situation (‘‘I wanted to say something, but’’). By anchoring the erotic to racist practice, I champion an alternative location for grounding racism—in the quotidian and intimate action that brings belonging to one another out into bold relief and perhaps also into question.


cannot conclude my review of Bonilla-Silva’s work without mention-

ing that for the second edition of Racism without Racists, Bonilla-Silva added a penultimate chapter, ‘‘E Pluribus Unum or the Same Old Perfume in a New Bottle?’’ to discuss the importance of recent statistics on Latinos being the largest minority group in the country and what significance this might have for our understanding of race and its location in the black/ white binary. As he argues:

The biracial order typical of the United States, which was the excep-

tion in the world racial system, is evolving into a complex and loosely organized triracial stratification system similar to that of many Latin

American and Caribbean

apparently more pluralistic and exhibit more racial fluidity than the order it is replacing. However, this new system will serve as a formi- dable fortress for white supremacy. Its ‘‘we are beyond race’’ lyrics and color blind music will drown the voices of those fighting for racial

and may even eclipse the space for talking about race


will be

This new order

altogether. Hence, in this emerging Latin America–like America, ra- cial inequality will remain—and may even increase—yet there will be

a restricted space to fight it. π

Bonilla-Silva’s new conclusions are important to my project because they demonstrate that moving to a multicultural space might not eliminate the problem of race for us all; that ‘‘beyond’’ is a place where achieving a ‘‘new order’’ looks like more of the same. What would moving in the direction of a multicultural space do for our collective understanding of this nation’s past? If the conceptualization of the past privileges whiteness as the big- bang theory of the multicultural (that whiteness arrives and therefore makes ‘‘races,’’ ‘‘di√erence,’’ etc.) then we are moving toward a ‘‘multi- cultural’’ society. If that history, however, privileges the presence of diverse Native American cultures in our tale of origin, then the multicultural ground that is our future unmakes a past already seething with multi- culturalism’s heterogeneity. The predicament outlined above is precisely why I devote the pages of this book to returning to the binary: just as one would return to a neigh- borhood that one grew up in because something important happened in that place, and in order to have a ‘‘future’’ one ought to have a fuller and

more adequate accounting of the events that took place there. In queer studies the ‘‘future’’ is rendered in the negative because of the championing of queer (male) bodies and their unproductive coupling. The ‘‘no future’’ noted by Lee Edelman that I’d like to posit here fills in the missing piece of this most pervasive form of queer critical engagement—what is that non- productive space looking back upon or forward to? As Edelman o√ers, ‘‘At the heart of my polemical engagement with the cultural text of politics and the politics of cultural texts lies a simple provocation: that queerness names the side of those not ‘fighting for the children,’ the side outside the con- sensus by which all politics confirms the absolute value of reproductive futurism.’’ It is in this unpredictable future that queer meets the race work of beyond. If the queer is posited against an agenda of relentless bio- logical warfare then what might beyond, what might the ‘‘future,’’ really be gesturing toward? Beyond gets its most trenchant application in Bonilla- Silva’s text as the not-so-distant location (the ‘‘triracial’’ event), and its racial diversity prepares us for a further diminishing of the e≈cacy of scholarly work on race. But shouldn’t this happy future provide us with so much more? In my assessment, the purpose of ‘‘the future’’ is to wed us to a particular kind of repetition where the reiteration of past practice enlists both heteronormativity and biological belonging on its side to hide racist endeavor in quotidian practice. The racial event embedded in the process of biology’s search for a future entails some critique of the networks of racial belonging and power that subtend such avid seeking. I want to return to the system of white supremacy that Bonilla-Silva implicitly engages and that critical race work seeks to understand. Bonilla- Silva thinks of white supremacy as ‘‘racialized social systems’’ that ‘‘became global and a√ected all societies where Europeans extended their reach’’ and therefore takes for granted its acknowledged presence among us. Ω There is great debate in historiography (Barbara Fields, in particular) as to when Euro-supremacy became ‘‘white’’ supremacy. I can think of no better artic- ulation of the presence of ‘‘white supremacy’’ among us than Charles Mills’s analysis of the ‘‘social contract.’’ Mills begins The Racial Contract with the following startling observation:

White supremacy is the unnamed political system that has made the modern world what it is today. You will not find this term in introduc-

tory, or even advanced, texts in political theory. A standard under- graduate philosophy course will start o√ with Plato and Aristotle, perhaps say something about Augustine, Aquinas, and Machiavelli, move on to Hobbes, Locke, Mill and Marx, and then wind up with Rawls and Nozick. It will introduce you to notions of aristrocracy, democracy, absolutism, liberalism, representative government, social- ism, welfare capitalism, and libertarianism. But though it covers more than two thousand years of Western political thought and runs the ostensible gamut of political systems, there will be no mention of the basic political system that has shaped the world for the past several hundred years. And this omission is not accidental.

In this dramatic opening, Mills reminds me of my own experience in a standard introductory philosophy and literature course at Princeton Uni- versity and takes me to the unanswered questions seeking refuge in words like ‘‘genius’’ and ‘‘merit’’ and ‘‘great books.’’ Why do some of the most influential works of Western thought say so little about white power as a political system? In thinking of white supremacy as ‘‘based on a ‘contract’ between whites, a Racial Contract,’’ Mills remakes the social contract de- vised by Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. A critique of Mills’s posi- tion here could rest on a reliance upon happenstance (Europeans hap- pened to be white and, ergo, white supremacy) as biological imperative. This kind of thinking leads us to believe that if only ‘‘we’’ were in power then things would be di√erent, even though ‘‘history’’ tells another story (I am thinking here of Cherokee slavery or the Israeli occupation of Pal- estine, for example). What if human overcoming were simply a way to ignore questions of systemic planetary abuse, for example? (a question that lurks in Gilroy’s earlier remarks). The larger question here is beyond the scope of this study, but I do think that Mills’s conceptualization is both eye opening and beautifully disas- trous, because at the end of the day the racialized aspect of ‘‘white’’ su- premacy uncovers something more pernicious in its wake: namely, the extent to which acts of quotidian di√erentiation can normalize racist en- deavor. The question here is not who is doing it, or how, but rather why racial di√erentiation is necessary at all and when it is, what system (already in place) might it be participating in?

By identifying white supremacy as a political system, Mills calls our attention to the kinds of detrimental civilizing e√ects that pollute notions of political and cultural terms such as ‘‘manifest destiny’’ or the ‘‘New World.’’ In addition, Mills makes a di√erent historical genealogy matter— one that Foucault, for all of his attention to biopower, to turning the human into a regulated and regulatory entity, seems to neatly omit; one that is instrumental to the production of narratives of citizenship, belong- ing, and that twenty-first-century truism called ‘‘nation building.’’ Never- theless, what is useful in Mills’s assessment of white supremacy is his emphasis on epistemological force, as it has a way of ‘‘prescribing norms for cognition to which its signatories must adhere.’’ This is where Mills’s findings pair well with those of Richeson and Shelton—where modes of cognition produce a certain kind of race work, albeit often unseen. Mills’s other important contribution to the discourse about (white) racism is his insistence upon the centrality of race to Western ideals and its importance in a nascent dialectic. Mills seems to move against the grain of discourse on race by observing that race rather than a developmental outcome of Western expansion is ‘‘in no way an ‘afterthought,’ [or] a ‘deviation’ ’’ from those ideals but rather constitutive of them. Historians and political theorists seem to have reached some consensus about the Enlightenment’s take on race; a consensus that involves seeing the Enlightenment’s increasing focus on race as a growing out of more religious or national concerns. In sum, critics often prefer a gradualist approach to understandings of the Enlightenment, and they claim that race develops as a distinct category and becomes a biopolitic when the social sciences emerge as disciplines and succeed in cementing ‘‘the body as the locus of identity and di√erence.’’ Mills’s di√erence from prevailing understandings of the Enlightenment project is expressed methodologi- cally: his view on race and the racism it engenders is steeped in analytical rather than continental philosophy. Nevertheless, one important example of this gradualist approach to Enlightenment race theory is outlined in Thomas Gossett’s early work on race: ‘‘The importance of Negro slavery in generating race theories in this country can hardly be overestimated, but it must be remembered that there was a minimum of theory at the time the institution was established. The theory of any political or social institution is likely to develop only

when it comes under attack, and the time for opposition to slavery was still far in the future.’’ π While Gossett’s oppositional paradigm might not be the best trigger for antiracist action, the feminist theorist Robyn Wiegman o√ers one articulation of the encumbered landscape of racial formation. In her analysis of the role of new technologies such as camera obscura in the making of what would come to constitute the visual or knowledge about the visual, she provides some cautionary remarks: ‘‘We would be wrong to assume that the motivating force of natural history was to estab- lish scientific proof for white supremacy in a theory of multiple creations.’’ Ω Wiegman’s emphasis on the classification and therefore di√erentiation of bodies is mirrored in Mills’s later assessment of the Racial Contract as something that ‘‘makes the white body the somatic norm.’’ In essence, Mills’s quest is to get at the materiality of moral reason, while Wiegman’s point is to think through how that materiality produces and subtends knowledge about a subject or, for that matter, a field of inquiry. In return- ing to the ‘‘how’’ of interaction, and perhaps moving away from the analyt- ical to the phenomenological, Mills asserts that ‘‘on matters related to race, the Racial Contract prescribes for its signatories an inverted epistemology, an epistemology of ignorance, a particular pattern of localized and global cogni- tive dysfunctions (which are psychologically and socially functional), produc- ing the ironic outcome that whites will in general be unable to understand the world they themselves have made.’’ Mills’s insistence upon the (benign) social contract as in fact a racial contract also does other work here—it transforms the singularity of rationality at the center of the Western epis- teme, and as a consequence redefines racism as a very rational act. Racist action makes the system of racial di√erentiation work. What is useful to my project is that Mills’s work allows for racist action to come into the quotid- ian—a move that puts his work solidly within critical race theory’s critical trajectory. As if to prove my claims that talk of race is always already laced with a strange temporality, neither here nor there but always with us, Wiegman o√ers the following: ‘‘If rethinking the historical contours of Western racial discourse matters as a political project, it is not as a manifestation of an other truth that has previously been denied, but as a vehicle for shifting the frame of reference in such a way that the present can emerge as somehow less familiar, less natural in its categories, its political delineations, and its

epistemological foundations.’’ Where the present can be rearticulated for what it is, and where what it is—its cognitive life—can be rendered like fat through its epistemological foundations, then this might be the place where Wiegman and Mills meet. As a feminist scholar Wiegman’s goal is to see how such supremacy works in concert with racist and sexist practice. As she writes: ‘‘The pro- ductive function of the discourse of sexual di√erence as an increasingly deployed mechanism of racial signification and control attaches in ways to black male bodies that are crucial to a feminist politics of antiracist struggle—to a feminist politics that is not simply invested in bringing back the black woman into critical view, but which traces the historical and theoretical contexts that shape her absence and that speak more broadly to the intertwining relationship between patriarchy and white supremacy.’’ Wiegman’s attention to gender (a category that lacks illumination in Mills’s text) in the complex matrix of race/sex/sexuality/class has important implications for this project, as my goal here is to return to that nexus that critics acknowledge profoundly shapes postmodern understandings of who we are and how we interact, yet a nexus they profoundly misread or undertheorize. Like Wiegman, the chapters that follow in this book ulti- mately focus upon how we have lost the black (lesbian) body. In my focus here, however, I do not argue that this erasure is produced by patriarchy and white supremacy. Instead, I understand this disappearance as also necessary to a certain mode of queer theorizing that cannot account for itself without that body’s erasure—even in its precise moment of absolutely recognizing and inscribing it. This review of critical race theory would not be complete without a nod to the work by practitioners of postpositive realism. Satya Mohanty, Paula Moya, and Michael Hames-García, among others, articulate their project as an attempt to engage the fault lines of postmodernism’s critique of constructivism by o√ering a critical alternative wherein we can see the inherent value in experience while simultaneously retaining objectivity, and rejecting, in the words of Mohanty, ‘‘as overly abstract and limiting this conception of objectivity as presupposition-free knowledge.’’ By ‘‘un- derstand[ing] multiculturalism as a theory of social justice’’ and defining multiculturalism ‘‘as a form of epistemic cooperation across cultures,’’ Mohanty and his critical allies move the discussion about race away from

the zero sum game of ‘‘us vs. them’’ and toward a grounding in identity that cannot be easily assailed from the vantage point of a colorblind neoliberal- ism. π The epistemic significance of identity and the importance of multi- culturalism to the postpositivist realist project are more thoroughly out- lined in Moya’s Learning from Experience. Mohanty lodges his critique in the same political theory as Mills, but their faith in its applicability and even universality di√ers greatly. While I am not convinced by postpositivist realist claims about multicultural possibility, that project has usefulness for this study because of its emphasis upon emotion. In paraphrasing the work of the philosopher Naomi Scheman, Mohanty surmises that ‘‘our emo- tions provide evidence of the extent to which even our deepest personal experiences are socially constructed, mediated by visions and values that are ‘political’ in nature, that refer outward to the world beyond the individ- ual.’’ Ω Mohanty gestures toward the very same province of emotion—let’s call this ‘‘racial feeling’’—that I seek to unpack in this book. This shift toward ‘‘emotion’’ has critical manifestations in work on ‘‘public feelings,’’ bodily a√ect, and performance, and it is my hope that what I touch upon here will add to that conversation but in an unfamiliar register. It is to this psychic life of emotion—volatile and pleasurable—that I now turn.




or ‘‘A Bit of the Other’’

where being queer and female is as rude as we can get. —Cherríe Moraga, Loving in the War Years

Kwame Anthony Appiah tells us, ‘‘In our private lives, we are morally free to have aesthetic preferences between people, but once our treatment of people raises moral issues, we may not make arbitrary distinctions.’’ Writ- ing in another time, Emmanuel Levinas asks, ‘‘Is the Desire for the Other (Autrui ) an appetite or a generosity?’’ These two quotes exist in relation- ship to one another, as Appiah’s excuse for the ego’s embarrassing commit- ments are relegated to ‘‘aesthetic preference’’ and Levinas’s equivocation between appetite and generosity speaks to the means rather than the ends of such commitments. At issue here is whether or not aesthetic preference ever passes as proper moral practice. Since Appiah’s words are grounded in his study of ‘‘racisms’’ and Levinas’s are not, it would seem a bit of a stretch to hold them in conversation with one another. But the words ‘‘appetite’’ and ‘‘generosity’’ are compelling here, and their use for a dis-

course about racism and its erotic life could be quite generative. In reading the words ‘‘appetite’’ and ‘‘generosity’’ together, one could surmise that what we need to do is turn an appetite—an ‘‘aesthetic preference’’—into an antiracist stance; a ‘‘generosity’’ that has great potential. Let us suppose that where the error occurs for Appiah is when our motivational energy turns what is aesthetic di√erentiation into a moral absolute. But what if such a beginning is always already flawed? What if that little thing called individ- ual preference is the sounding moment for racist desire? How can one unmake the (queer) autonomy of desire—the thing that is shaped, like many other emotions, and circumscribed by the racist culture that we live in? How can one disarticulate a personal preference from a racist attitude? When does a simple preference become an absolute? Appiah’s formula- tion harbors a contradiction, since what was once ‘‘aesthetic preference’’ becomes an ‘‘arbitrary distinction’’ only when treatment of people raises moral issues. A personal preference can become morally reprehensible when the private becomes public. This split between private and public, personal and political, has been soundly critiqued by feminist scholars and queer scholars, notably by Michael Warner in his searing examination of America’s obsession with sex, shame, and censure in The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics and the Ethics of Queer Life (1999). In essence, distinc- tions are okay so long as they remain in the realm of the personal (not always political perhaps), but when members of the group become cog- nizant of their precarious desires, there is a moral imperative to bring them in line with accepted standards of behavior. My premise here is that we have uncoupled our desire from quotidian racist practice for far too long. What follows in the next section is an examination of that uncoupling and how it might have been wrought over time and space. Much of the conversation about ‘‘the erotic’’ has taken place under the auspices of sexuality studies. I now turn to that discourse to map some of its key players since Gayle Rubin’s groundbreaking essay ‘‘Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality’’ (1984)—an essay that helped to ‘‘birth’’ at least two genealogies of queer studies work: one trajectory organized by Halperin, Warner, Bersani, and Edelman, and the other organized by Butler, Sedgwick, Halberstam, and Halley. I note these players on the field because the majority of the writers in queer studies feel the need to address or cite the contributions of these

queer studies scholars in some form or other. The gendered divide is alarming here as work in one order of queer studies sees the body as consistently under attack by both regulatory regimes and the symbolic order, while the other mode of queer address focuses on persistently calling into question the body’s situationality. In speaking about the racist prohibition embedded in the binary be- tween black and white, Marlon Ross observes that ‘‘the black-white polar- ity enables Americans to continue to deny the polymorphous course of all human desire. Giving Americans a screen for projecting fear, this polarity prevents them from dealing directly with the unclassifiable, uncolored course of desire itself.’’ For Ross, racist prohibition prevents ‘‘human desire’’ from working its steady magic. Like Gilroy, Ross imagines the realm of (queer) desire as an ‘‘uncolored course,’’ enlisting the category of the human to provoke us into seeing how unencumbered desire should and could be. I am very much in support of this claim; however, what I propose to unveil is how desire became so autonomous in queer theory and why claims to some universal humanity, though laudable, do not quite capture the kind of complex and often pernicious work that a ‘‘black-white polarity’’ does for us both critically and in everyday practice. It is my contention here that racist practice does limit human desire by attempting to circumscribe its possible attachments—a point I argued in the introduction to this book. Here I pose that there is no ‘‘raceless’’ course of desire, and I do so to ascertain the practiced nature of quotidian racism and how those practices shape what we know of as ‘‘desire.’’ In other words, this work might attempt to answer the question posed by Michael Hames-García in ‘‘Can Queer Theory Be Critical Theory?’’: ‘‘To what ex- tent can the privileging of desire as a realm of freedom and/or transgres- sion [within queer studies] occlude the collusion of desire with domina- tion and oppression?’’ π While queer materialist scholars have examined desire’s ‘‘collusion’’ with domination and oppression, there has been little work on how the psychic life of racism might have its erotic, desiring components. Elizabeth Free- man comes close to my observations here in her creation of the term ‘‘erotohistoriography,’’ which she claims is ‘‘a politics of unpredictable, deeply embodied pleasures that counters the logic of development’’ and ‘‘indexes how queer relations complexly exceed the present.’’ Freeman’s

presentation of desire is so capable that it can even remaster ‘‘the logic of development,’’ as it is articulated through a paradigm of past/present/ future. Unlike its erotic counterpart—cast as exceeding the boundaries of duration—racism consistently embeds us in a ‘‘past’’ that we would rather not remember, where time stretches back toward the future, curtailing the revolutionary possibilities of queer transgression. Freeman’s configuration moves us away from Edelman’s celebration of queer futurity’s lack and centers the critique upon a capricious nonlinearity—or to be more precise, an exacting and disabling recursivity that appears like a scene from Waiting for Godot. Ω It is my pledge in this book to find the admittedly tenuous although nonetheless compelling connection between the erotic and racism. My work on the erotic moves the boundary of the understanding of desire by queer studies from the province of an abstract and autonomous desire toward the materiality of the everyday, while simultaneously maintaining attention to queer studies’ inheritance from feminist inquiry. While I do not promise an explicit critique of capital, I am indebted to scholars such as Rosemary Hennessy who have taken it upon themselves to think through the relationship between capitalism and sexuality. In one of the most salient critiques of Rubin’s groundbreaking ‘‘Thinking Sex,’’ Hen- nessy o√ers the following view: ‘‘When desire is understood as lust, where lust is equated with a basic human drive, its historical production becomes invisible. More to the point of my argument, invocations of lust as a natural experience to which women have a right can limit our thinking about human agency, including sexual agency, to individual terms and so forestall the possibility of linking this aspect of human life and agency to a more collective endeavor. Desire remains abstracted and reified, and so we are also not enabled to see that this particular form of desire is not even available to all women.’’ Like Michael Hames-García, Hennessy cautions us to rethink the radi- calism in which queer desire is so awash. While her alignment of desire with ‘‘lust’’ might seem almost prudish, the materialist feminist vocabulary that Hennessy utilizes necessitates viewing desire as historically produced. For the most part, queer theory’s sense of historically produced desire gets its most salient critique in Halperin’s essay ‘‘Is There a History of Sex- uality?’’ By thinking through erotic connections between peoples in classi-

cal Athens as manifestations of power through various forms of state citizenship, Halperin is able to question our preconceived notion of what a history of sexuality might look like. Therefore, Hennessy’s insistence that desire is historically produced has special salience both inside of the Marx- ist lexicon from which she draws and for my earlier contention that history matters, but its organization and alignment of bodies within its discursive boundaries can detract from fuller explications of how bodies actually work, move, and interact. My claims about history here and elsewhere have their precursor in Linda Hart’s work on lesbian s/m. Focusing her critique on Linda Wayne’s observations about the display of symbols ‘‘particularly fascist imagery’’ representing historical atrocities, Hart observes: ‘‘While I myself, like many other pro-s/m lesbians, found it extremely di≈cult to accept the wearing of such symbols, Wayne is, I think, right to point out that to view them as static representations, iconographically and inextri- cably linked to acts that they once signified, contributes to their power to represent these acts as if they are outside history. That is not to say that what they have represented is not historical, but it does seem to suggest that this history has obtained a certain static, immutable quality, a timelessness.’’ As I argue in this book, representations of the historical have gotten in the way of our ability to see black/white relation in anything but static terms. Having a right to our queer desires is a fundamental tenet of queer theorizing, and Hennessy problematizes this theoretical arrangement—an arrangement that, as we shall see here and in the next chapter, has its black and white parts. By abstracting desire, notes Hennessy, queer theory de- taches it from lived experience—especially the lived experience of women. Unlike Butler, Rubin, and others Hennessy does find space to address ‘‘women,’’ and so her project holds a brief for feminist critique by not foreclosing as theoretically bankrupt our ability to speak to the condition of women as a category. Moreover, Hennessy’s valuation of ‘‘desire’’ at- taches it to ‘‘a more collective endeavor’’—an endeavor I see as holding out the possibility for racism’s rhetorical return to the landscape of the erotic. Again, we are called to remember the public and private, personal and political, and this collective quickly becomes politicized and oddly black and white the more that critiques of queer theory’s center abound. In addition, it is important to note that in this project I am very aware of how the erotic is tied to notions of blackness, and race as blackness.

Blackness, at least as it is understood in visual culture, not only produces ‘‘erotic value’’ for whiteness, but it holds the very impossibility of its own pleasure through becoming the sexualized surrogate of another. In a sense, blackness can never possess its own erotic life. Scholars on ‘‘blackness’’ such as Hortense Spillers and Saidiya Hartman have contributed to the Fano- nian concept of blackness as the thingness of the thing by arguing for a more absolute abjection under slavery and colonization—an abjection that places the black body in peril and, for Hartman at least, even in the midst of somewhat quotidian scenes of pleasure. My explorations at the boundary between black and white attempt to unmake this foregone con- clusion. While queer studies might believe that desire always produces or makes ‘‘di√erence,’’ even violently so (I’m thinking of Bersani reading Lacan here), the shape and texture of that ‘‘di√erence’’ is usually defined within the limits of queer theory’s appropriate object—sexuality. To reiter- ate: in thinking through the erotic my project is guided by work in queer theory but not grounded in its usual set of critical investments. Ultimately I attempt something rather inappropriate, if not uncomfortable; namely, I suggest that we can’t have our erotic life—a desiring life—without involv- ing ourselves in the messy terrain of racist practice. To think through this connection—how we uncoupled racism and the erotic and how we rear- ticulate the connection—I now move back in time to our thorny feminist inheritance.

queer phenomenon

In the last decade or so feminist critics and philosophers have been resur- recting and reinterpreting Simone de Beauvoir’s existentialism—notably her intellectual departure from Sartre and contribution to his work; the faulty translation by H. M. Parshley of her seminal work The Second Sex; and her various influences across the disciplines. The chief component of Beauvoir’s oeuvre is an acceptance of the erotic as a philosophical category —an allowance that stems from her work with phenomenological con- cerns. Her claims culminate in The Second Sex, which among other things establishes a feminist ethic of the erotic. The kind of meaning that Beau- voir alludes to in the erotics of all psychic relationships is very similar to Audre Lorde’s later conceptualization of the term. In speaking of the erotic, Beauvoir advances the following observations: ‘‘The erotic experience is

one that most poignantly reveals to human beings their ambiguous condi- tion; they experience it as flesh and as spirit, as the other and as the subject.’’ She continues as follows: ‘‘There is in eroticism a revolt of the

instant against time, of the individual against the universal: to try to chan- nel and exploit it risks killing it, because live spontaneity cannot be dis- posed of like inert matter; nor can it be compelled in the way a freedom can be.’’ What Beauvoir finds in the erotic is rooted in the revolutionary potential for a certain autonomy. This revolutionary potential is constitu- tive of an autonomy that tends to drive much of early queer studies work— the erotic is risky for the whole because it focuses exclusively on the indi- vidual by breaking an individual o√ from the regulatory structures that make community, place, and home while simultaneously casting the queer subject over and against such normative spaces. π For Beauvoir, the erotic

is a good thing because it quite simply allows women in particular to

possess their own sexuality. If the erotic cannot be ‘‘compelled in the way a freedom can be,’’ then it rests in a plane apart from other and perhaps more pernicious desires. But what if our erotic selves have been compelled not just by state intervention but also by such terms as ‘‘community,’’ ‘‘home,’’ and ‘‘race’’? The erotic thus recalls the impossibility of community with another, mocking our ability to connect, and also highlights the reciprocal nature of subjectivity, or what it means to be a subject—as subjectivity is constituted not so much from a belief in the self and one’s own actions but in the understanding of another with whom we have connection (hell is the

other, after all). The life of the erotic is cradled in the definition of what it means to be human in the first place, and in the second ordering of the erotic through eroticism it contextualizes for Beauvoir the pleasure and danger of women’s sexuality, specifically. Ω As if to capitalize on the fruit- fulness of this philosophical predicament while still holding out hope for Beauvoir’s brief for the female subject, Lorde remarks that ‘‘the erotic is

a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual

firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized

feeling.’’ The capacity of this ‘‘feeling’’ and our need to pay attention to

it could easily be recognized in the spate of theoretical discourse on ‘‘pub-


lic feelings’’ and ‘‘a√ect’’—discourses that implicitly align themselves with early feminist musings about the unexpressed or the unrecognized.

Lorde’s work on the erotic in ‘‘Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power’’

was delivered twenty-six years (1978) and published over thirty years (1984) after Beauvoir’s The Second Sex was first published in 1952. It expresses a commitment not only to the erotic but also to a gendered erotic; one harnessed by and for women: ‘‘The principal horror of any system which defines the good in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, or which defines human need to the exclusion of the psychic and emotional components of that need—the principal horror of such a system is that it robs our work of its erotic value, its erotic power and life appeal reduc[ing] work to a travesty of necessities, a duty by which we earn bread or oblivion for ourselves and those we love.’’ Both Beauvoir and Lorde indicate an investment in the erotic for its potential to undermine pre- existing notions of the self (woman’s self) and society. This conceptual- ization of the erotic is constitutive of phenomenological work from Hus- serl to Sartre, Merleau-Ponty to Levinas, and although a rich appraisal of this trajectory would be fascinating, it would take us beyond the specific purpose of this book. From the dialectical to the transcendental to being itself, the remnants of phenomenology’s claim upon the queer studies project can be seen everywhere—as sexuality can potentially mark the signal event that moves the old Cartesian contest between self/society into the intimate space of the bedroom, thereby pulling us into the contest of self/other/self at play and calling for a rearticulation of our relations, public and private. In this regard, phenomenology’s stake in the personal and the political finds its most comfortable adaptation in the work of queer studies, an adaptation that fuels claims against the apparent myopia of queer studies— a myopia that queer of color critique and to some extent black queer studies attempt to redress. Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology is an adept reimagining of phenomenology’s utility for a queer studies project on the body in time and space. In it she notes, through a reading of Fanon, that phenomenology tends to orient itself on the surface of things. She sees Fanon as a counter to the depthlessness of phenomenological claims:

‘‘Fanon asks us to think of the ‘historic-racial’ scheme

historical dimensions are beneath the surface of the body described by phenomenology which becomes, by virtue of its own orientation, a way of thinking the body that has surface appeal’’ (110). While I am respectful of

the racial and

this almost postpositivist attempt to make race matter—to have those so- cial relations that express racial feeling matter to the surface schema that is phenomenology’s contribution to the table of ideas about perception and consciousness—I am not wholly convinced that the inside/outside or surface/depth paradigms serve us well here. One other contribution to the discussion of surface is Jay Prosser’s meticulous assessment of that very surface and its absenting of the trans- sexual body. In arguing very persuasively that ‘‘just below the surface’’ of the foundational texts in sexuality studies is the transgendered body, Pros- ser critiques trans as the ultimate metaphor for queer’s postmodern fluid- ity and performative movement. For Prosser, queer theory is so indebted to the surface model of subjectivity—discourse on the body but not in it— that the materiality posed by the transsexual body cannot and ought not to be read as part of the same matrix. All of this talk of racial and trans being beneath the surface points toward an embeddedness in the flesh with which my project is uncomfortable. Materiality is a beautiful thing, but when it is marked by the historical in such a way that one has to provide a certain (and often delimiting) narra- tive to legitimize and make legible the body’s presence (think of the scene in the Safeway parking lot that opens this book) then we run the risk of treating history as essence rather than as one narrative among many. Pros- ser does, however, attempt to correct this problem of the historical by creating an alternative archive, thus utilizing transsexual narratives as fod- der for understanding the body’s materiality. His study is important to my project because its investment in the flesh doesn’t always rely upon the historical dimensions of materiality to write the human being for us. But the material e√ects of erotic investments are not always so tangible as racist e√ects seem to be, or are they? I return briefly to one moment in Ahmed’s text that dovetails with the penultimate analysis in this chapter as I seek to unpack as well as compli- cate the codependent relationship between racist practice and desire. In defining the directional motivations of colonialism, Ahmed o√ers the fol- lowing reformulation: ‘‘The ‘direction’ of the social wish is for access, and

this ‘direction’ also makes others accessible

simply directed their wishes and longings toward the Orient but rather that

the nation ‘coheres’ an e√ect of the repetition of this

It is not that nations have


repetition is not innocent but strategic: the direction of such wishes and longings makes others available as resources to be used, as the materials out of which collectives might ‘write’ themselves into existence.’’ The fine line between source and resource is not necessarily the political power of a state apparatus, but rather the trained disciplinary matter of an in- tellectual inquiry. In critical practice we have seen time and again how ‘‘women of color’’ or ‘‘race’’ are reiterated as strategic categories of di√er- ence; their deployment speaks volumes about the resourcefulness of dis- cursive endeavors. For Ahmed, bodies are a centrifugal force—they ‘‘tend toward’’ as much as they pull others in. Clearly the focus upon desire—the erotic of Lorde and Beauvoir to some extent—is important in the process of orientation under colonialism, as desire (longing) marks the place of colonial access, thus turning the desired one into a kind of melancholic digestif. You can attempt to incorporate it all you want to, but the thing you want will remain forever elusive, so you must try to capture it in other ways—fixing it through law (the condition of the child shall follow the condition of the mother in the United States context) and custom (the overall perception that the idea of a ‘‘neighborhood’’ reflects cultural ebb and flow rather than racist practice). The spatiality of a√ective relations outlined by Ahmed changes both the direction and the definition of desire itself. Here, the erotic is less like autonomous life and more connected to a matrix of desiring relations that tend to make it di≈cult to mark where racist (here, colonial) practice begins and where our good desire ends. Is the desire for another an appetite or a generosity? Whether appetite or generosity, desire in queer theory in the twenty-first century holds no brief for ‘‘women’’ and the host of materialist concerns that come with her writ large. Beauvoir’s and Lorde’s work on the erotic is punctuated by what femi- nists have come to think of as essentialist claims about the ‘‘nature’’ of the feminine and female experience, although the new renaissance in Beauvoir studies has tried to provide a more nuanced understanding of her contri- butions to feminist inquiry by interrogating the charge of essentialism against her. In any event, Lorde and Beauvoir want to claim for ‘‘women’’ a particularized purchase upon their experience. In recent years, it has be- come almost impossible to speak for or about women within emerging feminist/queer theorizing because of the call to a subjectless feminism—

first put forth by Butler in Gender Trouble, rearticulated in her essay in di√erences ’’Against Proper Objects’’ (1994), and cited across a spectrum of critical texts. Sonia Kruks’s review essay of Beauvoir criticism notes that Sara Heinämaa’s investigation of Beauvoir’s work sees value in her focus on the lived experience of women—a focus that is not the same thing as essen- tializing them. Moreover, it is clear in Heinämaa’s reevaluation of Beau- voir’s place within phenomenology that the purpose of her study is to break us of the habit of seeing Beauvoir in Sartre’s shadow. To this end, Heinämaa’s work is a major reconsideration of Beauvoir’s oeuvre. More to the point, she demonstrates the extent to which Butler’s early work on feminist philosophy was engaged in a concerted dismantling of Beauvoir’s essentialist existentialism. For example, one can see evidence of the feminist debate over Beauvoir’s legacy in the text and footnotes of Gender Trouble. In one instance Butler remarks, ‘‘Note the extent to which phenomenological theories such as Sartre’s, Merleau-Ponty’s, and Beauvoir’s tend to use the term embodiment. Drawn as it is from theological contexts, the term tends to figure ‘the’ body as a mode of incarnation and, hence, to preserve the external and dualistic relationship between a signifying immateriality and the materiality of the body itself.’’ π As with much of philosophical writing, we are directed in both Butler and Heinämaa to a fundamental misreading of the philosophi- cal texts at issue so that in the end it is hard to say which reading might be exact(ing) enough to merit our collective attention. My own reading of Heinämaa’s work sees that again and again in Beauvoir and in critical evaluations of her work, race is set apart from sexed embodiment since— for Kruks as well—all societies do not necessarily make racial distinc- tions. But this works only if we know to what ‘‘race’’ or the ‘‘racial’’ actu- ally refer. In reading this reassessment of Beauvoir I am reminded of how the racialized subject is lost in the play of desire, flesh, consciousness, and transformation—how the body appears to another and how it is histor- icized makes it legible (to critics) and therefore determines its relation- ship to the philosophical question at hand. Philosophy can only see black/white subjectivity in a historical interface where blackness is denied access to a white social contract or where whiteness determines the limit of the law. Have we really begun to see (black) white subjects as racialized beings within a framework that doesn’t lose them to a white supremacy

that looks more and more like something out of the blinding whiteness that concludes Shelley’s Frankenstein?

black bodies, black feminisms

If race is a mark on the body that is nonnegotiable—under the skin and on the surface—then what do we do with it ? In essence, how can philosophy account for the lived experience of a body it has, in the words of Heinämaa, ‘‘failed to think and imagine,’’ or a body it has failed to think or imagine in any but static ways? Ω How can you make appear the thing that is necessary to disappear in order for the work of philosophical inquiry to commence? Each of these questions points to the way in which the body is imagined as the grounding figure for the creative origins of philosophical thought. For the most part, whenever neoliberal thought wants to think about the body of color, this figure is deployed through a historical matrix that mires the racially embodied in one particular historical dynamic. The dialectic pro- duced from this dynamic imposes transcendent being for the one and historical meaning for the other. This conundrum is very similar to the one that Mills poses in The Racial Contract—how can philosophical inquiry account for the invisible (to itself) system of white supremacy? By thinking through our erotic commitments, we might come to think di√erently about the historical—we might find a grounding for racist practice that acknowledges both systemic practices and quotidian e√ects that far exceed our patterned understanding of how history has happened to us. Ironically, Simone de Beauvoir might be one of the few philosophers to pay some attention to New World slavery in her accounting of women’s oppression, although that attention is made through a problematic anal- ogy. As Margaret Simons argues in Beauvoir and ‘‘The Second Sex,’’ Beau- voir understands that ‘‘the master and slave, engaged in human activities, are, in Beauvoir’s view, essentially similar and yet radically dissimilar to woman, who is confined to a lower, animal-like life’’ (25). The problem here is really with the category of the human rather than that of the slave, as Simons continues: ‘‘A major problem with this comparison between slavery and women’s oppression lies in Beauvoir’s characterization of slav- ery. In the American slavery experience, which Beauvoir refers to exten- sively, justifications for slavery relied upon racist ideology espousing the animal-like character of the slaves. Instead of being seen as essentially

similar to their masters, slaves were perceived as radically dissimilar. Slaves were thus confined to the category of the ‘Other’ in racist ideology, as women were in sexist ideology’’ (26). This is a common opposition, and one that was much critiqued by feminist scholars in the 1980s and even into the 1990s. But I do not believe that we have left behind this useful formu- lation, as reconstituting the black/white binary as woman of color versus queer theory (at least in queer of color critique), does nothing to loosen the ties that bind blackness to a particular historical accounting. This kind of theorizing draws and quarters black.female.queer in an unrelenting logic of forgetting and displacement that is still being played out in contempo- rary theorizing. I shall engage this body of thought in the next chapter. A few pages later in her book, Simons reviews feminist criticism from the 1970s and notes that ‘‘one is struck by the relative lack of attention given to racism and the oppression of minority women’’ (28). Racism is something done to ‘‘minority women’’ rather than a practice a√ecting all ‘‘women’’ in the larger culture. Unfortunately, Simons relies upon the same representational dichotomy that has dogged mainstream feminism and sparked the publication of All the Women Are White, All the Men Are Black, But Some of Us Are Brave—a critique of the ‘‘proper object’’ of critical (feminist) inquiry that emerged long before Butler’s queries in Gender Trouble. To narrow this problem somewhat, I ask how do we get past (get over?) the exasperating static situation of the (black) female body? History includes the doers and the done to, so that seeking refuge in historical situationality doesn’t do much to remind us that something called ‘‘black feminism’’ is always already at the table of feminist ideas. In Lorde’s ‘‘Uses of the Erotic’’—the most thoroughgoing (black) femi- nist engagement with the erotic—she proposes that we siphon o√ our erotic self from its opposite, the pornographic. As she writes: ‘‘The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confus- ing it with its opposite, the pornographic. But pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it represents the suppression of true feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling’’ (54). This is one of the most important feminist statements in the latter part of the

twentieth century. In my view, it places the most visible branch of black feminist thought in direct opposition to an emerging sexuality studies. Jennifer Nash, in her essay ‘‘Strange Bedfellows: Black Feminism and Anti- pornography Feminism,’’ goes so far as to say that ‘‘antipornography femi- nism’s fingerprints smudge the lens through which black feminism exam- ines sexuality, pornography and pleasure.’’ In viewing emerging black feminist debates on sexuality as promoting a kind of ‘‘sexual conserva- tism,’’ Nash’s critique falls squarely into the path of the problem I begin to outline here. Lorde’s ‘‘Uses of the Erotic,’’ published in the same year as Gayle Rubin’s groundbreaking ‘‘Thinking Sex,’’ does the work of moving black feminist inquiry away from an understanding of all sexual minorities (perverts, prostitutes, pederasts, and sex workers) as having a collective stake in dis- mantling the regulatory regime of sex law. In ‘‘Uses of the Erotic’’ em- phasis is upon bridging the gap between women through deploying di√er- ence as a strategy of intersection rather than segregation. By seeing the erotic in opposition to a definition-lacking pornography, Lorde’s essay secured her understanding of the line of demarcation be- tween the two. This interpretation has its roots in an interview conducted in 1982 and published in the collection of essays entitled Against Sado- masochism. In this interview Lorde takes a stand against s&m practice by seeing it as part of women’s experience of the pornographic and marshall- ing a black feminist thought against both the kind of queer subjects that Rubin would consider worthy of our attention and the type of theorizing necessary for such an engagement to take place. But in Against Sadomas- ochism it is not Lorde’s interview that gives us a standard portrait of historical embeddedness because Lorde is careful not to subject her cri- tique of s&m to a history specific to the black body. Instead, it is Alice Walker’s epistolary engagement of the problem of s&m role play that calls attention to the problem of historical reenactment. In ‘‘A Letter of the Times, or Should This Sado-Masochism Be Saved?,’’ Walker recounts the following story: ‘‘Imagine our surprise therefore, when many of us watched a television special on sado-masochism that aired the night before our class ended, and the only interracial couple in it, lesbians, presented themselves as mistress and slave. The white woman, who did all the talking, was mistress (wearing a ring in the shape of a

key and that she said fit the lock on the chain around the black woman’s neck), and the black woman, who stood smiling and silent, was—the white woman said—her slave.’’ Walker’s ‘‘A Letter of the Times’’ reminds us that we can take history very personally, especially when the players line up so nicely. In the same vol- ume, Judith Butler’s ‘‘Lesbian s&m: The Politics of Dis-Illusion’’ (a piece originally written in 1980 during the period of her dissertation work) manages to strike the same spiritual high notes as Lorde’s work does. As Butler writes: ‘‘Saying yes to lesbian sex seemed to mean saying no to heterosexist power. And it seemed to mean saying yes to a new and cre- ative power. Opposing the notion of power as domination, lesbianism has meant for many of us a re-posing of power as the extension and creation of new ways of loving’’ (169). This kind of open-ended language by Butler certainly mirrors Lorde’s sense of the expansive nature of women-loving- women community. At another moment during a critique of Pat Califia’s call to prevent the policing of ‘‘our private fantasy lives’’ (171), Butler even goes so far as to say, ‘‘If I am trying to fight the Man and also worry about pleasing my sisters, I can see how private fantasy might become a haven of sorts. But the question is, is it a haven?’’ (172). Judith Butler—fighting ‘‘the Man’’! Yet man or no man, the opposition between public and private here is still important in the early stages of queer theorizing—and I would maintain that this opposition has played a role in cementing what the objectives of an emerging discourse about ‘‘queer’’ would embrace. In her final analysis Butler engages the ‘‘tension between moral feminists and sm.’’ Like Rubin and Sedgwick, Butler would come to see feminist ethics as ‘‘moral’’ and therefore part of the regulatory regime of knowledge and power unduly directed at queer bodies that queer theory set itself up to thoroughly critique. Somewhere in this moral bathwater, the black female body swirls. Butler’s claims in this early piece intersect with my work on desire because she is quick to remind us that ‘‘our desires are not so straight-forward. They are, I think, complexes of things, fears, hopes, memories, anticipations’’ (172–73). Ultimately she writes: ‘‘I am simply saying that to conceive of desire as a law unto itself [the sm position] and the key to destroying repressive sexual orders is to exaggerate the autonomy and intelligence of desire.’’ Here, Butler worries about the ef- ficacy of desire as an end unto itself. Thinking through our historical

location, Butler moves to drag desire through history’s gantlet, reminding us that ‘‘there is no full-scale escape from our historical situation and the legacy of domination that has become ours’’ (173). In the end, Butler acknowledges that ‘‘it is crucial that both power and politics get reshaped and deepened from having passed through the lesbian There is also the ‘power of the erotic’ in Audre Lorde’s essay of that name’’ (173). Walker, Lorde and Butler all rely upon some aspect of essentialist readings in order to make their collective point about power, women, and lesbians. I am most intrigued by Butler’s use of the word ‘‘our’’ as a modi- fier for ‘‘historical situation,’’ and I want this moment in her early work to return us to my recurring questioning of the matter of ‘‘history’’ among us. As we can see from the brief excerpts from all three critics, ‘‘history’’ means something very di√erent for each of them. When Butler refers to history, she is absolved of having to specify its productive meanderings; when Walker speaks to history, she means ideologies of domination and subor- dination cemented during chattel slavery; and when Lorde nods toward the historical, she means the relationship between the state and the prov- ince of women’s spiritual power. Here, history is capable of doing so many things to us and for us. All of these definitional permutations are of some consequence to the landscape of queer theory as we know it. It is my contention that when we move toward the specificity of power, when we try to wrap our minds around it, we also begin to wrestle with the problematic attachments that feminists like Walker seem to give to those power relations. Regrettably, whether Walker actually aligned ‘‘power’’ with the history of slavery or not, her use of the term would be taken as a direct reference to it, while Butler’s use would appear universal, less particular, and therefore meaningful to everyone. Historical embeddedness reeks of insincerity when we allow blackness to take the burden of what should be political as personal. If we tie the black female body to the inevitability of slavery’s abusive sexual terrain so that every time we think of enslaved black women and sex we think pain, not pleasure, then we also fail to acknowledge our own intellec- tual responsibility to take seriously how the transatlantic trade altered the very shape of sexuality in the Americas for everyone. To echo Spillers here, this is not a polite question to ask, but in my view a necessary one. Against Sadomasochism includes the work of a diverse collection of

women, many of them women of color. It is clear that Butler feels (at least in 1980) that she cannot have a discussion about desire or the erotic with- out directly engaging black feminist thought; years later she would be soundly condemned as having ignored it altogether. What happened to this moment of integration, this queer intellectual coupling? In what ways have we forgotten it while historicizing queer theory’s rise from feminism in ways that make it easier to forget both this early crossing and pro- found disagreement? In many ways, Butler’s later work continues to think through the impossible conundrum of having our cake and eating it too. How can desire’s autonomy ever be fully expressed in a situationality that mires it in a certain history? How can we begin to speak to desire in productive ways without marking this history and making it matter? The question for my project is how can we mark and make this history without attaching it to some bodies rather than others? Ultimately, I argue, we have also lost the saliency of black feminist disagreement with an emerging queer studies project. In the next chapter I will demonstrate how that voice has been harnessed productively and nonproductively in intellectual inter- ventions in the future of queer criticism. Recourse to history does not help to give clarity to our e√orts to unseat biology, as quotidian narratives of black presence in the historical conjure a body wholly responsible for the history in which it is made manifest to us.

queer reproduction

Early practitioners of queer theory—many of them present at the impor- tant conference at Barnard in 1984 that resulted in the volume Pleasure and Danger—had to know about the back and forth between queer feminists and those aligned with Women Against Pornography. Women of color who did participate in the conference (Spillers, Moraga, and others) were wary of the move toward sexuality (and said as much in their creative and critical presentations), fearing that the problems of inclusion and voice that had plagued feminism would carry forward. π More impor- tantly, the move toward queer theory and away from feminism cast femi- nist ethics as ‘‘moral’’ regulation and therefore jettisoned the ethical con- siderations upon which prevailing feminist criticism had relied. It is important to note that Walker, Lorde, and Beauvoir are interested in how sexual practices relate to ongoing discussions of feminist ethics. I do not

believe that these (black) prescriptive feminist concerns have translated into the less regulated environment in which queer studies finds itself. When queer of color critique performs the task of making black feminist and woman of color feminism matter to our theoretical projects, I do not know if this black feminist work on queer pleasure finds its way into the equation. In our subsequent understandings of what went wrong with queer theorizing, we somehow forgot the fact that significant and visible black feminists (Lorde and Collins, for example) absented themselves from a somewhat fruitful, if problematic debate about how we take our pleasure. The result has had an equal and opposite e√ect. In some early queer theory, ethical or ‘‘moral’’ concerns would mire us in regulatory regimes that constrict the queer body as well as tether us to a stubbornly homo- phobic feminism; on the other hand, ‘‘ethical’’ concerns in late queer theorizing continually ensnare us in regimes of domination and suppres- sion that mark the ‘‘ethical’’ as the place of whiteness and belonging in such words as ‘‘citizenship,’’ ‘‘nation,’’ and so on. What has been cast as ethical or moral is harassed by neoliberalism’s long reach. What has been lost here is the desire to speak to the ‘‘ethical’’ in regard to the personal, since now it is perceived as being attached to a backward feminism or tethered to a cor- rupt ideology of global domination and biopower. Focusing on the per- sonal in this formulation reduces the political impact of theoretical work by diminishing the importance of the state and its regulatory regimes. It is time to reassess what the personal is in the wake of history and how historical meaning is made in queer theorizing. In essence, the debate about ‘‘sexuality’’ and black and colored bodies in feminist studies has yet to be concluded. Thinking through the very prob- lem of s&m (in black and white) in the transition from one disciplinary home to another points to a possible wrinkle in the ongoing queer theory project. What is at stake in queer theorizing is to take this s&m scene and forget about its black/white casting, so that what queer theorizing says about queer acts (at least until queer of color critique) is wonderful so long as we do not get specific; so long as we do not get personal. In many ways, mainstream queer theory wants to leave history behind. I want to empha- size here that such desire is and can be fruitful, as the erotic scene can now move unencumbered by history’s power play. What I want to argue with is the extent to which such a leave-taking does little to unpack the pur-

posefulness of the black/white interaction in this historical scene. This purposefulness is one that marks our unwillingness to grapple with the binary, our adept reiteration of queer history’s real trajectory, and our assignation of some histories to certain bodies. I shall argue in the next chapter, perhaps very contrarily, that the per- sonal is political, that absenting these somewhat conservative black femi- nist opinions from the women of color intellectual project performs dam- aging work. If we introduce the diversity of self-identified black lesbian feminist work to the conversation, will it mire us again in a historical repertoire that we find so annoying? Will S.H.E. (singular, historical, ex- ogenous) prevent us from forgetting? In truth, not even Cathy Cohen’s intervention—which I discussed at length in chapter 1—could get queer theory to turn its head toward the political consequences of black.female.queer. And this is mostly because Cohen’s overarching concern in ‘‘Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens’’ is with queer politics, not theory. The political harasses the queer studies project that wants to envision itself as less personal, more global, and there- fore of consequence. Nevertheless, Lorde’s essay became a minor bump on the highway of high theory, and it provides one of the first black feminist injunctions against the messy contemplation of pleasure and desire that queer theory would undertake in the next two decades. There have been sustained discussions and critiques of Lorde’s work in black feminist criticism, and while much of it has been laudatory few have ventured to see the parallel between Beauvoir’s design for the erotic and Lorde’s conceptualization of its place in ‘‘women’s’’ lives. Ω In the end, we seem to have accepted the abrogation here, so that the erotic appears to stand in fundamental opposition to, in Lorde’s words, a ‘‘racist, patri- archal’’ society. I see in this subjection of ‘‘the erotic’’ to the sort of women’s work that sits in opposition to the pornographic as both troublesome and somewhat undertheorized. Lorde boldly states: ‘‘The erotic functions [as] a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their di√erence.’’ The challenge is to address Lorde’s assumption (and Butler’s early though tacit adoption) of the view that the erotic ‘‘functions’’ as a means to undo di√erence, rather than facilitate its entrenchment. On the other hand, what better way to understand racist practice than to

gauge its particular investment in usurping the power of the erotic—the perfect location, according to Lorde, for the erosion of di√erence rather than for its reinscription. The erotic in queer hands works its magic be- cause it functions in a very neat nonreproductive zone—it can be the

repository of our desire for that nonreproductive ordering so necessary to

a post-Edelman futurity, since ‘‘future’’ is already what comes after. Even in Beauvoir’s framework, there is space for the erotic to mean more to women than just a vestibule or passageway to the reproductive sphere. In many ways, the wrestling of the erotic from the zone of reproduction’s inherent futurity has been a necessary move in feminist and queer scholar- ship, because it frees up the gendered body to do some extraordinary work. I am not the first feminist scholar to point this out; Biddy Martin notes while reading Sedgwick that ‘‘gender, and the theory of gender o√ered by feminism, then, are associated with reproduction and with women.’’ Sex- uality emerges and becomes recognized in the severance of the erotic from racist practice, from the pornographic, so that reproduction (the province of feminism) can be dispensed with and the act of forgetting what biology

is for (racial belonging, procreating) can commence. Like Martin, I want to

hold open the possibility of reproduction’s meaning here—not for its rela- tionship to women but rather for what its consistent practice says about the racial. Racist practice is still haunted by reproduction’s persuasive arc insofar as the ‘‘racial’’ binds itself to the decision to pursue the future, the next generation. In order for queer studies to take this arc seriously, it must begin to see the material function of the erotic, and given the call for gay marriage and more reproductive and familial rights for queer subjects, its meaning in the quotidian course of queer life. The problem that biology presented for feminism was worked out

through the necessary sex/gender distinction in the late second wave. Once feminism understood biology (now not even ‘‘sex’’) to be as indeterminate as socially constructed sex roles (gender), then the category of ‘‘woman’’ could slip out from under biological necessity and societal baggage to roam freely with its ‘‘male’’ counterpart. Biddy Martin has pointed out the queer investment in the mobility of the male over and against the inflexible female quite articulately. The importance of overcoming the ‘‘biological’’ in feminist discourse is evident in Sonia Kruks’s review of Beauvoir scholar- ship, where she notes that ‘‘what these recent treatments of Beauvoir have

in common is their return to her work as a site at which we may address impasses that confront feminist theory today. Taken together, they point us beyond unmitigated poststructuralism, toward a post-poststructuralism that rea≈rms the importance for feminism of retrieving the lived experi- ences of embodiment and of overcoming not only biological but also discursive forms of reductionism.’’ What I am arguing here is that race and racist practice mire an unfet- tered feminism in the materiality of the body and the idea of its limit. Where ‘‘the biological’’ is understood as ‘‘reductionism,’’ the black racial project is excoriated for its crippling backwardness, since it is embedded in notions of the biological that do not help it make the case for better (racial) feeling. On the other hand, jettisoning the biological as the province of women in order to open up the space for queer (re)production does not facilitate the dismantling of racism’s foundational logic. Queer theory’s inheritance from feminism is, for many queer theorists, to continue to denounce talk of race as identity politics and ignore ‘‘racist practice’’ al- together, because these things are entirely disruptive to a theoretical project invested in the autonomy of (woman’s) erotic preference, to echo Appiah. But, as postpositivist realist theory demonstrates, just because we eschew talk of race does not mean that racist e√ects vanish. As materialist feminists raged against the poststructuralists and vice versa in the 1990s, it became clear that the subject of woman was not over just yet. While feminism might have conquered the biological determinism in which sex/gender was mired, it has yet to wage the battle against the same biologism embedded in the racist practice that produces race. A woman freed from her biology—whether through theory or technology, to remember Shulamith Firestone here—still faces the potential of that biol- ogy; its potential is written as a racial contract, to remember Mills here, as well as a gendered one. When John D’Emilio proclaimed that ‘‘capitalism has led to the separation of sexuality from procreation,’’ thus freeing ‘‘hu- man sexual desire’’ from the reproductive sphere, he signaled the begin- nings of a queer autonomy for the work of desire. What he left behind is the ability of queer studies work adequately to account for racist practice in the midst of such autonomy. Perhaps this is the ethical moment that Beau- voir, Lorde, and Walker worry about? Racism turns us toward the bare life of procreation—regardless of how technology has freed us from the neces-

sity of putting a penis in a vagina for procreative work to commence. We still have the messy nucleus of procreation’s racial order to contend with— a racial order that in many ways is justified on both sides of the binary as either racial pride or nostalgic yearning. While Beauvoir conceives of the erotic in often heteronormative terms, Lorde opens the door for its interpretation through diverse kinds of sexual configurations, which she explores more loosely in her biomythography, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. In doing so, she comes dangerously close to the incest taboo—often a marker of absolute di√erence between

subjects in the context of the family. π Judith Butler remarks on this par- ticular prohibition: ‘‘What will the legacy of Oedipus be for those who are

situations where positions are hardly clear, where the place of

the father is dispersed, where the place of the mother is multiply occupied or displaced, where the symbolic in its stasis no longer holds?’’ Butler understands this challenge to the claims of social and cultural norms of kinship as the result of changing structures of relating among queer families (for lack of a better word). I o√er that the question she asks can have more radical claims if she were to extend it to the infrastructure of American slavery—articulated as something imposed upon and practiced by us all, rather than something particular to certain bodies. Such claims to kinship—in black and white—were and are obliterated by liaisons created as a result of slavery’s economic structure. Gone is the acknowledged relation among relatives; present is the raw nerve of the incest taboo, set aside for the purposes of securing national wealth and international domi- nance. The place of slavery in queer studies work has yet to be reckoned with, and this is perhaps because the boundary-breaking futurity in which queer studies finds its subject would balk if such a subject were held to a transhistorical vision of time—a vision that expands Foucault’s conceptual- ization of a queer calendar to other historical events in its vicinity: a queer begetting of magnificent proportions! Ω Within five years of Lorde’s Sister Outsider (1984), David Halperin helped to mark the trajectory of queer studies work with the following statement about sexuality as it was currently understood:

formed in

Sexuality defines itself as a separate, sexual domain within the larger

field of human psychophysical

Sexuality e√ects the concep-

tual demarcation and isolation of that domain from other areas of

personal and social life that have traditionally cut across

sexuality generates sexual identity; it endows each of us with an indi- vidual sexual nature, with a personal essence defined (at least in part) in specifically sexual terms, it implies that human beings are individu- ated at the level of their sexuality, that they di√er from one another in their sexuality and, indeed, belong to di√erent types or kinds of being by virtue of their sexuality.


By recognizing that sexuality must somehow be understood as something that represents a ‘‘demarcation,’’ a cutting o√ from other ‘‘social life,’’ Halperin pinpoints the problem embedded in early sexuality studies that still prevents us from thinking through race, sex, nation, queer in any way that can be agreed upon, in practice. For Halperin, the very modern idea of ‘‘sexuality’’ creates ‘‘the autonomy of sexuality as a separate sphere of existence.’’ How did queer studies come to believe that sexuality holds the key to ‘‘the hermeneutics of the self’’? While it is not Halperin’s project to spend time thinking through this question, it is clear in the critical race scholarship discussed earlier in this book that sexuality discovers its history during the rise of the age of reason. The taxonomy of post-Enlightenment life requires that we order sexuality and racial belonging. One can think of these movements as coterminous rather than separate and distinct. The biological determinism that made sexual acts mean something to male and female bodies came hand in hand with the kind of biological determinism necessary to make race(s) work. My reading of this coterminous becoming for race and sex would put Robyn Wiegman’s work in conversation with Halperin’s rather than rele- gate their contributions to two separate but important (if not equal) strains of critique. Race, sex, and sexuality might have emerged from the ‘‘New’’ World together, but it would be di≈cult to see them in the same room and consider their consanguineous condition outside of apocalyptic narratives that continue to order what racism, is, does, and means to us. As sexuality gained a hermeneutic that it could depend upon for evidentiary claims about subjection (not subjects), it pulled up and parallel to the bumper of race’s fictitious known world. Lorde is part of a long line of feminist ‘‘mothers’’ whose new age hopes

for ‘‘women’s’’ connection far exceeded their ability as women to practice what they preach. My goal in these pages has been to create an alternative genealogy for how the erotic became uncoupled from the arc of racism’s reach. With this trajectory in mind, I now turn to queer critical attempts to bring race and racism back to the table of queer ideas. In the next chapter I focus on the discretionary claims of queer criticism’s interdisciplinarity while simultaneously holding a brief for the loss and forgetting and unre- coverability of black.female.queer presence in the making of such critical interventions.



The deepest terror of every socially marked human being—

[is] that no matter what we write

think about or say, no matter how we fashion ourselves and our work, we will be incessantly returned and reduced to this single marking, that it will be produced again and again as ‘‘the truth’’ of our being, our thinking, our worldly endeavors. —Wendy Brown, ‘‘The Passion of Michel Foucault’’

colored, female, queer

Those forced to wait or startled by violence, whose activities do not show up on the o≈cial time line, whose own time lines do not synchronize with it, are variously and often simultaneously black, female, queer. —Elizabeth Freeman, ‘‘Time Binds, or Erotohistoriography’’

For even if I left, I would have to return, would have to recross the borders of the United States, where the significance of the ‘‘Negro’’ designation is so thoroughly sedimented that it conditions even my attempt to forget what it means. —Phillip Brian Harper, ‘‘The Evidence of Felt Intuition’’


Reproducing Discretion as the Better Part of (Queer) Valor

Colored. Female. Queer. Black. Female. Queer. The epigraphs above are ordered in a profound exceptionalism that convinces me that American studies did not have to go global to make the claim that the exceptional is certainly part of the rhetoric that glues understandings of who and what we are to one another. Black, female, colored, and queer share a simul- taneity that opens them to violence, reduction, and forgetting. This is a historical ordering so sedimented, to echo Harper, that even our attempts to forget such a designation are futile. And we do want to forget, often in the very act of remembering. As Faulkner once o√ered, ‘‘memory believes before knowing remembers.’’ Black.Colored.Female.Queer. marks an un- disciplined sector of the discipline: the representations of her have shifted from the dangerous and volatile to the abject and weak; S.H.E. (Singular. Historical. Exogenous) is both protector and protected. Her status con-

tinually reminds us that we have not yet accomplished our lofty goal of politically e≈cacious and practiced theory. In fact, theory fails her all the time. My goal in this chapter is to trace how we have simultaneously lost and found her (black, female, queer) in various critical attempts to have her mean something to the discipline of queer theorizing. Wendy Brown in ‘‘The Passion of Michel Foucault’’ concludes her scath- ing critique of James Miller’s homophobic assessment of Foucault with the epigraph I cite above. The arrangement she utilizes—‘‘colored, female, queer’’—is a common one, and since Kimberlé Crenshaw first coined the term ‘‘intersectionality’’ feminist critiques have been dogged by its absolute will to discretion—to represent each term in its discrete semantic location. For this particular critical conundrum, discretion is the better part of valor: it might be brave to think of these terms as intertwined, even messy, but it is much safer to chug along thinking of them as discrete, distinct, separate. But the categories ‘‘black,’’ ‘‘colored,’’ ‘‘female,’’ ‘‘queer’’ point to a persistent problem in queer theorizing—how to have our queer theory and our feminism while still seeing the colored body or how to have our colored criticism while still seeing the female and the queer body and so on. My epigraph from Harper’s work is meant as a playful rejoinder to the endpoint erected by Brown’s grouping; we conclude with her, only to forget our entangled relation. The foregoing analysis suggested that queer studies needs critical race work in order to reassess its take on the erotic and in order for the antiracist endeavor to commence. This chapter chron- icles the articulation of the queer studies project through various attempts (black queer studies and queer of color critique) to remind it of its per- sistent forgetting. Although this mapping could have several origins, perhaps the best place to begin would be with the special issue of di√erences, ‘‘More Gender Trouble: Feminism Meets Queer Theory’’ (1994), in which several feminist theorists grapple with the ‘‘subjectless’’ critique of the new queer studies. What is most obvious when reading ‘‘More Gender Trouble’’ is that there are more attempts here, in line with Eve Sedgwick’s contribution to the field (Epistemology of the Closet ), to commit finer acts of separation along the lines of Gayle Rubin’s initial call to see sex and gender as separate. Elizabeth Weed, contributor and founding editor of di√erences, notes:

‘‘More accurately, the analytic space [Sedgwick] opens up looks to drive a

wedge not simply between sexuality and gender, but between sex-sexuality and sex-gender.’’ In essence, the purpose of the collection is to speak for queer theory in a feminist context as well as to articulate which mas- ter narratives—deconstruction, psychoanalysis, knowledge-power—can and will be important to queer theory’s painful but necessary final ‘‘break’’ from feminism, a break that Janet Halley attends to in her book Split Decisions: Taking a Break from Feminism. But the di√erences volume (later published as a book edited by Weed) also arises at a particular moment in academic discourse. During its incep- tion, ‘‘identity politics’’ was being soundly thrashed by those in the more theory-inclined Left who wanted to take a break from the noise being made by folks of color, to put it plainly. In Rosi Braidotti’s conversation with Judith Butler about the shape of feminist theory in Europe, Butler remarks:

‘‘As you no doubt know, there has emerged an important and thorough- going critique of Eurocentrism within feminism and within cultural stud- ies more generally right now. But I wonder whether this has culminated in an intellectual impasse such that a critical understanding of Europe, of the volatility of the very category, and of the notions of nation and citizenship in crisis there, have become di≈cult to address.’’ Butler’s semantic trajec- tory here is telling and worth remarking upon in some depth. She begins first by establishing a critical intimacy with Braidotti (‘‘you no doubt know’’)—letting the reader also understand that this ‘‘thorough- going critique of Eurocentrism’’ is of some importance to their discussion. In the next step, she takes us right to what I call a criticision—somewhere between an intellectual statement and a bris—a critic’s way of pronouncing the death knell for a particular intellectual line of inquiry by managing it like a nasty little killer T cell—excising doesn’t always work, but it does produce a cleaner member, so to speak. Once the critique of ‘‘Eurocen- trism’’ has been disarmed and appropriately managed then the e≈cacy of this critique is no longer certain. An important conversation within femi- nist and cultural studies (one that alludes to the rise of critical race dis- course) is produced as an intellectual impasse—one that threatens the ability of ‘‘Europe’’ (the new subject here) to be able to speak its own diversity and destiny; one that includes the terms ‘‘nation’’ and ‘‘citizen- ship’’ rather than a term like ‘‘Eurocentrism.’’ This e√ort to contain one term (‘‘Eurocentrism’’) and redeploy others (‘‘nation,’’ ‘‘citizenship’’) is

produced by a perceived ‘‘impasse.’’ Since an impasse can be a dead end as well as a block to progress, Butler’s language here reinterprets valid intellec- tual disagreement as dead end. Moreover, this impasse is also minimized to a misunderstanding of terms rather than a fundamental disagreement over the workings of racist practice. At this point in queer theorizing, the ques- tions were never really about naming, although public debates devolved into the name game. Instead, what was at issue is, I shall argue, still at issue:

to what historical trajectory would queerness attach itself, so that it could be legible to itself and to others? Which geographic locations would be meaningful for queer theory’s central inquiries? Butler has other reasons for casting a wide net over this embroiled debate. At the time, she was under fire in many feminist circles for being blind to race in general; a critique brought from the conference circuit to the publishing arena with Paula Moya’s Learning from Experience. In ‘‘More Gender Trouble,’’ there is subtle if not detectable anxiety about the black body, and it is clear that as the special issue moves from Butler’s introduction to the interactive responses at the back of the volume, the more nuanced relations between ‘‘feminism’’ and its master narratives become, and the more we seem to lose the black body (critical or physical). This anxiety about the black (female) body and its function within queer studies work is evidenced in Evelynn Hammonds’s ‘‘Black (W)holes and the Geometry of Black Female Sexuality’’ where she observes:

I could perform that by now familiar act taken by black feminists and o√er a critique of every white feminist for her failure to articulate a conception of a racialized sexuality. I could argue that while it has been acknowledged that race is not simply additive, or derivative of sexual di√erence, few white feminists have attempted to move beyond simply stating this point to describe the powerful e√ect that race has on the construction and representation of gender and sexuality. I could go further and note that even when race is mentioned it is a limited notion devoid of complexities. Sometimes it is reduced to biology and other times referred to as a social construction. Rarely is it used as a ‘‘global sign,’’ a ‘‘metalanguage.’’ π

Hammonds decisively points to the larger questions within queer studies work—questions that remain unanswered despite the emergence of black

queer studies, queer of color critique, and most recently, the discourse of settler colonialism brought by native studies scholars. What to do with that black body that marks—at least in Hammonds’s playful yet serious configuration—the angry boundary between feminism and queer studies by returning the fields to their cloying material life? Ω As if to answer this question in part, but in another vein, black queer studies inquiry stretches across two important publications: the special issue of Callaloo, ‘‘Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies,’’ published in 2000 and edited by Jennifer DeVere Brody and Dwight A. McBride, and the volume Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson and published in 2005. In their introduc- tion to ‘‘Plum Nelly,’’ Brody and McBride ask ‘‘how might we conceive of the place of black queer studies?’’ (286). For both, that place or intellectual home is in African American studies, and their intent is to present the essays as a commentary upon that ‘‘home’’ and its lexicon rather than produce a sustained critique of queer studies and queer theory per se. ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ is important because it marks a serious departure from the politics of cultural specificity located in ‘‘identity di√erence’’ to what Mar- lon Ross in ‘‘Camping the Dirty Dozens’’ proposes as ‘‘identification as a temporal process’’ (291). This is a temporality that José Muñoz investigates as disidentification in his groundbreaking work Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics and that Judith Halberstam later capitalizes upon in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Sub- cultural Lives. As Ross notes: ‘‘Although it is impossible to ‘evacuate’ totally the grounding of cultural identity in spatial metaphor, we might be able to disrupt this spatializing tendency, at least temporarily, by thinking of cul- tural identification as a temporal process that enables and constrains subjec- tivity by o√ering up resources for a≈liating with, while also disa≈liating against, particular social groupings, which themselves are constantly being revised over time by individuals’ reconstitution of them’’ (291). Ross’s cri- tique is indebted to feminist theorizations about di√erence and is similar to the work of Muñoz, who explicitly borrows from this group’s vocabulary to coin the term ‘‘identities-in-di√erence,’’ which imagines that some ‘‘identi- ties use and are the fruits of a practice of disidentificatory reception and performance.’’ The next generation of queer scholars of color would borrow from Muñoz the paradigmatic term ‘‘queer of color’’ and turn it into a critical critique, notably with the publication of Rod Ferguson’s

Aberrations in Black and the special issue of Social Text, ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?,’’ edited by David Eng, Judith Halberstam, and José Esteban Muñoz. I will get to this new wave of queer scholarship at the end of this chapter. Ross’s lead essay in ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ focuses on black nationalist invective and its relationship to camp, and his argument is finely wrought, detailing the ways in which (black) nationalist critique has situated while also al- lowed for the presence of the black queer body. The battle that black queer studies wages here is one from within and without—one that mainstream queer studies and queer theory perhaps is free to disengage from. For white queer studies scholars to battle alongside queer allies in underrepresented groups the critique would get very messy indeed as white subjects—seen as always already privileged—would have to engage the particularized preju- dice of marginalized peoples. In other words, is it possible for (white) queer theory to join in the call to interrogate the e≈cacy of black claims to di√erence? It is my contention that this somewhat thorny proposition—that white colleagues engage in the dismantling of African Americanist constructions of the black self—keeps black queer studies in particular from being em- braced by both queer of color critique and other queer studies projects. The prohibition against calling out the disenfranchised (especially the black disenfranchised)—be they heterosexist or not—is still fully ingrained in neoliberal thought. Nevertheless, as the movement for lgbtq civil rights hits one roadblock after another, it is clear from the faculty meeting to the blog entry that white subjects have been more inclined to critique black subjects, even though such critiques are usually salted with the same kinds of bad analogy, historical sedimentation and outright racist invective that I have critiqued elsewhere in this project. But the forgetting of the black body—its relegation to someplace else in queer studies—continues, as there is something politically necessary that cannot be done, or even acknowledged as possible by (white) queer counterparts, without dire po- litical consequences. The players here are disciplinarily defined (African American studies, queer studies) and the boundary between them makes a mockery of the very interdisciplinarity that critical mingling should foster. It seems that the racial divide haunts us continually, as we can still say, ‘‘you can say things that I cannot’’ and mean it with all sincerity. I am convinced

that reimagining the erotic life of racism might hold some possibility for a critical recuperation here, as the focus on quotidian racist practice and its manifestation in the sphere of the erotic (who we love and how we re- produce) might disrupt our rather static notions of the black body and its historical repertoire (or the potentiality of its repertoire?) and the white critical body as it seeks to politely trespass upon it. What we find in ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ is a subtle correction of the aesthetic and archival record that is queer theory, so that when Henderson ventures to mark Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room as a metaphorical ‘‘closet,’’ and then re- calls his allusion to the ‘‘panic’’ incited by the homosexual, she can then remind Sedgwick that her reimaginings of the territory of the homosexual had in no small part been fully anticipated by Baldwin. Again, we might ask ourselves why the African American (queer) canon is of little theoreti- cal use to the (white) practitioners of an emergent queer theory. As with Butler’s reading in Bodies That Matter of Nella Larsen’s Passing, black example is mired in the biological—it is important when one wants to look at race meeting ‘‘queer’’ or some other category, but as Hammonds ob- serves in the first incarnation of feminism meets queer studies: it is rarely used as a ‘‘global sign’’—it always has particularity. Examples of this theoretical tension abound in ‘‘Plum Nelly,’’ and Michael Cobb’s piece, ‘‘Insolent Racing, Rough Narrative,’’ returns to the cadre of intellectuals in the Harlem Renaissance who contributed greatly to queering the very cen- teredness of race as a founding hermeneutic for an understanding of black being. What the black body is good for, at least theoretically, is wholly challenged not only in the primary texts of the Harlem Renaissance but also in the critical tradition that attempts to make sense of them. Why then this persistent need to see the black body as narrow referent, as reproduc- ing a historical fixation for human being while simultaneously o√ering itself up to the discipline as someone else’s to own and manage? By the time queer studies evolves into queer of color critique in 2005, we are well on our way to the turn to the transnational in queer theory—a turn that inadvertently marks work that focuses on United States populations as problematically parochial. What is interesting is that this turn is an- ticipated in ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ by Phillip Brian Harper’s closing piece, ‘‘ ‘Take Me Home’: Location, Identity, Transnational Exchange.’’ π One could cer- tainly argue that the first turn to the transnational comes out of Gloria An-

zaldúa’s very influential Borderlands/La Frontera—and this turn is in some part a response to how postcolonial criticism reconfigured the geographi- cal reach of the transnational. Borderland theory pushed back on that remapping, thereby moving the intellectual fodder for discussions about racial di√erence to a psychic and material space that was more liminal and intimate; a space that ultimately privileged a principal hybrid subject. In recalling two experiences while in Canada—one with ‘‘trade’’ at a cash machine and the other at customs—Harper reflects: ‘‘If the discomfiture I experienced during my interview on the street is thus partly traceable to the anxiety with which I both recalled and anticipated my national-border crossing, then it would appear to constitute an instance—however paltry— of a particular psychic e√ect much commented upon in recent theoretical work. Specifically, it would seem to comprise the disorientation charac- terizing the transnational imaginary in the era of global capitalism.’’ Ω I am reminded here of my discussion in chapter 2 of Sara Ahmed’s attempt to use phenomenology’s commitment to space and perception in order to think through what disorientation might mean to a queer project. Harper engages the ‘‘transnational imaginary ’’ in an unraveling of his two experi- ences, which invoke problems of power, status, and ultimately conceptual- izations of citizenship. Toward the end of Harper’s piece, he cautions against a move to the transnational as a corrective to the somewhat ‘‘limited’’ focus on issues af- fecting persons living within the United States. Instead, Harper suggests that the very same United States subject would find it hard to break away from this ‘‘inward orientation’’ even in their evaluation of all things out- ward. In closing, Harper suggests ‘‘that state-ideological functions can never be conceived apart from citizen-subjects whose activities and con- sciousness they call into being, which themselves certainly have not yet been unmoored from the imperatives of modern state nationalism.’’ Harper’s analysis and caution has great usefulness for this study, as it redirects our attention to the potential for subjects traditionally marked as ‘‘among the oppressed’’ to inhabit a certain kind of privilege—the erotic life of racism rears its ugly head—while also indicating a moment in (black) queer theorizing where the turn to the transnational is perceived as risky, if not intellectually suspect. Harper worries that our attempts to look ‘‘out- ward’’ do not always compel us to think that our own actions and reactions

are part of the problem that we seek to engage; this doubling back upon the self—a kind of critical self-reflection—is crucial to the work of theory. But what happens to these critical maneuvers in the next incarnation of the empire strikes back for black queer studies? For Johnson and Henderson in Black Queer Studies the goal is to ‘‘reani- mate’’ African American studies and queer studies so that African Ameri- can studies can take into account (again, now the second call) the impor- tance of sexuality (not just hetero) to its intellectual project and so that queer studies can find a way back to thinking about the take on race by African American studies in that project. Although Johnson and Hender- son do not allude in their introduction to the ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ collection, they seem to set for themselves a similar trajectory. But the increasing anxiety about the particularity of the black body is evident in their introduction:

In its current configuration, the volume’s content is clearly centered within the regional context of the United States. Nonetheless, we are aware of the very important implications of diaspora and postcolo- nial studies relative to black American sexuality. We are also conscious of the sometimes narcissistic and insular theorizing of U.S.-based academics who do not thoroughly engage the impact of globalization and U.S. imperialism on the transnational flows of racialized sex- Our focus here primarily on U.S. racialized sexual politics is not meant to be totalizing or polemic but rather strategic. Black queer studies is a nascent field and we feel compelled to prioritize a con- comitant embryonic theoretical discussion within U.S. borders in or- der to make an intervention ‘‘at home,’’ as it were.

Johnson and Henderson unwittingly reinscribe the particularity of black- ness and its specificity—its ‘‘embryonic’’ nature—in order to make a brief for attention to its geographic and historical situationality. I cannot help but comment upon the use of the terms ‘‘embryonic’’ and ‘‘nascent’’ to describe a black queer studies project. These words testify to the important status that reproductive metaphors have for work on race. While the heteronormative properties of reproduction appear to be what ‘‘queer’’ stands in opposition to, how can such metaphors be useful to a black queer studies manifesto? The literary critic in me wants to hold a

brief for the (shadow) importance of reproduction here because it sutures race to the erotic. When one makes an argument for a ‘‘racial’’ project, the terrain turns rocky very quickly because one is now obliged to do a certain kind of race work, and this work, erotic or otherwise, enlists racist prac- tice. The real time of reproduction’s orthodoxy—biology/race—creates the conditions under which black queer studies can now become visible. As if in anticipation of this problem, Johnson and Henderson also ac- knowledge the critique of their position o√ered by one of the essays in the collection, Rinaldo Walcott’s ‘‘Outside in Black Studies: Reading from a Queer Place in the Diaspora.’’ In this essay Walcott asks, ‘‘Why is it that the black studies project has hung its hat so lovingly on U.S. blackness and therefore a ‘neat’ national project? And how does a renewed interest in questions of the diaspora seem to only be able to tolerate U.S. blackness and British blackness?’’ While Johnson and Henderson seem to deflect the transnational moment by addressing it in the introduction, there is the nagging sense that a project on United States blackness marks it as paro- chial, a claim made by some critical race scholars in their attempt to unwed racist practice from a black/white paradigm mired in a specific geographi- cal space. It has been my contention throughout this study that this black/ white binary is constitutive of the racial imaginary, since so many evidenti- ary claims about racist practice return repeatedly to this specter of absolute di√erence. It is time to bring our imaginary in line with our critical prac- tice—it is time to come clean about the erotic charge of racist endeavor. One way to begin this work is to rethink the place of reproduction (not as hetero or homo, not as feminist or women’s) and its attention to biology, race, and belonging. Once the authors have outlined the province of black queer studies, they then direct their attention to an overwhelmingly ‘‘white’’ queer theory. As E. Patrick Johnson reminds us, ‘‘there is some ‘race’ trouble here with queer theory. More particularly, in its ‘race for theory,’ queer theory has often failed to address the material realities of gays and lesbians of color.’’ Here again a black (racial) project is set in opposition to a white (racial) project, so that the black/white binary is wielded to do some heavy lifting, while the editors make the simultaneous claim that black queer (racial) belonging is a di√erent kind of project altogether. Similarly, in ‘‘Beyond the Closet as Raceless Paradigm’’ Marlon Ross, citing Maurice Wallace’s contribution to

the dismantling of ‘‘the closet’’ as a particularly ‘‘gay’’ metaphor, and con- tinuing a critique embedded in Henderson’s take on Baldwin in ‘‘Plum Nelly,’’ argues: ‘‘(white) queer theory and history are beset by what I call ‘claustrophilia,’ a fixation on the closet function as the grounding principle for sexual experience, knowledge, and politics, and that this claustrophilic fixation e√ectively diminishes and disables the full engagement with po- tential insights from race theory and class analysis.’’ In arguing that the closet metaphor helps to link the coming homosexual community to a ‘‘powerful narrative of progress,’’ Ross also notes that the very genesis of queer critique—Foucault’s knowledge-power theory—relies upon an era- sure of the racialized body (read by Ross as ‘‘black,’’ not white) in order to prepare it for its inscription as homosexual. In his analysis, the work of the sexologists casts reproduction for the homosexual as a failed function of and a failure to reproduce the Anglo-Saxon. This brief emphasis on the importance of reproduction to the invention of the homosexual is of great consequence for this study because it marks a crucial point at which the two branches of queer studies I have been following here both repudiate the reproductive for homosexuality and ban- ish it from the theoretical center of queer discourse. I have argued ear- lier that this movement away from reproduction’s material force also had much to do with queer theory’s need to take a break, echoing Halley, from feminism. In Ross’s redaction of the sexologist’s findings, the failure to (re)produce the Anglo-Saxon is part of the constellation of lack in which the very idea of the homosexual rests. If we were to take reproduction here as part of the matrix of racialized desire, we can then see how this turn away from reproduction is racially marked, not because it reveals a loss of Anglo-Saxon sanguinity per se, but because it also produces reproduction as a function of white racial belonging rather than as a function of all racial belonging. In light of my musings about reproduction and feminism in chapter 2 I want to engage two arcs of thought in queer studies engagements: one in which reproduction (a feminist province) is utilized as a failure of white- ness, and the other in which this failure is coded as always already a property of one racial group over another where the concern is for white racial reproduction, not black racial reproduction. The particular embed- dedness of desire (the erotic) and racist practice—both of which come out

of the defining of reproduction here—is hard to see. Every time we say queer theory and think or feel an opposition between black and white, the erotic shadow of racist practice casts itself on the wall. Queer studies takes the high road by continuing to view its racial inheritance as something to be repudiated (a repudiation that I read in Miss Rosa’s rejection of Sutpen’s proposal in Absalom, Absalom! in the conclusion to this book); a repudia- tion manifested in its focus on the biopower of the child. This repudiation is often celebrated as something queer theory can be proud of. But this renunciation also comes at a cost, as it places blackness outside of the lifework of reproduction, thus losing the material function of blackness in the discourse of reproduction and homosexuality, as well as its culpability —its ability to serve as an agent and actor—in the quest for racial belonging. Although I have taken issue with the way in which ‘‘white’’ queer theory is deployed here, Ross’s critique serves to dismantle many of the assumptions of universality and collectivity embedded in the word ‘‘homosexual.’’ In picking up on the challenge to (white) queer studies posed by black queer studies scholars, queer of color critique emerged between Callaloo ’s ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ and Black Queer Studies with the publication of Roderick Ferguson’s Aberrations in Black (2003), a book that grounds the discussion of queer theory in the work and contributions of ‘‘women of color.’’ Fer- guson’s redaction of women of color feminism observes that ‘‘it attempted to negate the normalization of heteropatriarchal culture and agency by the inchoate global economy. Indeed, black lesbian articulations of di√erence, queer identity, and coalition bear traces of this negation’’ (118). In his introduction to the book he announces that ‘‘queer of color analysis pre- sumes that liberal ideology occludes the intersecting saliency of race, gen- der, sexuality and class in forming social practices,’’ while also noting that it ‘‘extends woman of color feminism by investigating how intersecting ra- cial, gender, and sexual practices antagonize and/or conspire with the normative investments of nation-states and capital’’ (4). Given my earlier explication of some black feminist investments in the discourse on sex- uality, it is clear that these ‘‘normative investments’’ litter black feminist thought, making ‘‘liberal ideology’’ the possession of whom and for what ends? In essence, Ferguson’s question and my own would be: do all of black feminist critics necessarily stand outside of ‘‘liberal ideology?’’ In sum, this is a tall order for black feminism in particular, as its particu-

lar theoretical might is figuratively used to usher in a queer critique that focuses upon ‘‘historical materialism.’’ For Ferguson, ‘‘put simply, women of color feminism, generally, and black lesbian feminism, particularly, attempted to place culture on a di√erent path and establish avenues alter- native to the ones paved by forms of nationalism’’ (118–19). π The slippage between women of color and ‘‘black’’ is neatly negotiated by Ferguson— this is a welcome addition to feminist thought—but my query here has to do with what kind of work the category ‘‘woman of color’’ both recognizes and obfuscates. With such heavy emphasis upon dismantling the status quo at the intersectional thoroughfare, black feminism must be repre- sented as an exceptional entity, capable of sitting in the vanguard of sexual liberation. There are familiar elements here—the importance of intersectionality, for one—but there is also new territory, as Ferguson follows Muñoz’s lead in identifying what role ‘‘queer of color’’ can play in critiquing global capitalism and normative heteropatriarchy. In addition, there is a pro- found shift not only in the underpinnings of the queer theory project, but also in the bodies that such a project might take as its imaginary/imagined focus. By changing the arc of queer theory’s citational terrain, Ferguson moves away from the genealogy that extends from Foucault outward, to one that might begin with Marcuse and Davis, and extend to Lowe, San- chez, Hong, Goldberg, Mercer, and Sandoval, to name a few. In queer of color critique, gone is the citational repertoire (e.g., Butler, Sedgwick, Halperin, Warner) found in both black queer studies projects. This re- ordering is a profound shift in queer theory, and my attempt here is both to laud this bibliographical shift and also to think through what Ferguson is asking of us as theoretical practitioners. In essence, what does queer of color critique want us to do, really? What comes out of this evolving critique is the way in which the black (female) body as the vanguard theory of a woman of color feminism again signals the intersection, or to borrow words from Hortense Spillers, is ‘‘vestibular to culture.’’ Ω Can a body of work be a new paradigm? My query leads me back to Hammonds’s desire to have race be a ‘‘global sign,’’ rather than something to be remarked upon perfunctorily so as to get it out of the way. Now that S.H.E. is in the center, will the landscape of queer theorizing shift to acknowledge her presence?

Nevertheless, Ferguson’s contribution does build upon critical race work in that he is attuned to racist practice. He notes by way of Chandan Reddy’s work that ‘‘racist practice articulates itself generally as gender and sexual regulation, and that gender and sexual di√erences variegate racial formations. This articulation, moreover, accounts for the social forma- tions that compose liberal capitalism’’ (3). By focusing on racist practice as gender and sexual regulation Ferguson provides a useful paradigm, as do his colleagues in black queer studies, for our understanding of racist prac- tice. I take this notion a step further by returning the focus on the regulation of sexual practices to the terrain of reproduction—where racist and homophobic practice cohere for nation-state and neighbor. It is clear that in focusing upon queer of color critique and global capitalism, scholars like Ferguson (and by extension Muñoz and Reddy) want to return the saliency of ‘‘woman of color feminism’’ to ongoing materialist debates about sexuality in the age of transnational flows. As Muñoz writes in Disidentifications, ‘‘If queer discourse is to supersede the limits of feminism, it must be able to calculate multiple antagonisms that index issues of class, gender, and race, as well as sexuality’’ (22). By this time in the theoretical game, feminism has solidified as a project that should be superseded, which gives it the status of a relic and simulta- neously excises the very contributions of women of color to the pro- duction of a very diverse feminist discourse that queer of color critique is poised to commit itself to. The di≈culty lies in this deployment of black.female.queer as an entity whose historical underpinnings necessitate a situation where S.H.E. (Singular, Historical, Exogenous) is functionally illiterate, where S.H.E. can be forgotten, and where her intellectual con- tributions matter insofar as they awaken the senses to a past politico- knowledge formation in which S.H.E. can be readily contained. Her figur- ation at this point in our critical history looks profoundly like that of the native subject in Phil Deloria’s Playing Indian, where ideas of nation, place, and origin are wholly invested in seeing and believing in the archaic native—in promoting a dead zone (think ‘‘impasse’’)—one echoed here by the figuration of black.female.queer. Can the aims of the ‘‘woman of color’’ feminist project be harnessed for discussions about liberalism in a post-9/11 world? Before I answer this question, it is important to note that I am naturally suspicious of the terms

‘‘liberal’’ and ‘‘liberalism,’’ which queer of color critique attempts to turn our attention toward in the next iteration of the critical project. The work of liberalism marks the political landscape around us so severely as to sever one population from another so that liberals are out there some- where and the rest of us (call us black feminists) are wedded to the always already political critique or rigorous action. But, as we all know, any mar- riage provides safe harbor for infidelity. Critiques that cannot seem to bear the weight of their own conclusions—ones that segregate as well as discriminate—worry me to no end and open themselves up for a profound skepticism, if not devastating blindness for this black.female.queer. What kind of legibility will a black.female.queer critique have if she falls outside of the neat political boundaries set for her in the roll call of critical agents? I am not the only queer theorist who has had di≈culty with liberalism’s significance to the queer studies project. In Terrorist Assemblages: Homo- nationalism in Queer Times, Jasbir Puar notes that ‘‘it is precisely by deny- ing culpability or assuming that one is not implicated in violent relations toward others, that one is outside of them, that violence can be perpetu- ated. Violence, especially of the liberal varieties, is often most easily per- petuated in the spaces and places where its possibility is unequivocally It is easy, albeit painful, to point to the conservative elements of any political formation; it is less easy, and perhaps much more painful, to point to ourselves as accomplices of certain normativizing vio- lences.’’ Puar’s insistence that ‘‘normalizing violences’’ can proliferate, even in critical work is crucial to my project. In the end, I ask: what more normativizing act can there be than to participate in reproduction? And given its normativity, a classification that we are indebted to queer studies for illuminating, what kinds of work within the racial project does repro- duction perform? As if in answer to this question, David Eng, Judith Halberstam, and José Esteban Muñoz—the editors of the special issue of Social Text ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’—assembled to query the ‘‘political util- ity of queer’’ by imagining ‘‘a renewed queer studies ever vigilant to the fact that sexuality is intersectional, not extraneous to other modes of di√er- ence, and calibrated to a firm understanding of queer as a political meta- phor without a fixed referent’’ (1). Their words here are clearly poised to take on the challenge issued in David Halperin’s early essay (‘‘Is There a

History of Sexuality?’’) to think through the way in which sexuality became unhinged from other social and political practices. Given the events after 9/11, the editors of ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ find a certain historical and political urgency for a new queer critique—one that makes the turn to the transnational a fait accom-

pli, as ‘‘queer diasporas’’ problematize ‘‘what could be called queer liberal- ism’’ (1). Queer liberalism is not only a province of whiteness, it is also deeply invested in the export of American ideals and ideas that might not be transferable to a larger world order. The veiled critique here concerns itself with ‘‘whiteness’’ and also, implicitly, with the kind of parochialism observed in United States critical practices. This queer liberalism has also been remarked upon in the work of M. Jacqui Alexander, who observes that ‘‘an early epistemic marriage between queer theorizing and the domi- nant methodologies of poststructuralism in the U.S. academy has had the e√ect of constructing queer theory in a way that eviscerates histories of colonialism and racial formation.’’ Liberalism, especially queer liberal- ism, pointedly disregards ‘‘histories of colonialism and racial formation’’—

a liberalism that queer of color critique utilizes woman of color feminism

to stave o√. Alexander rehearses the feminist argument that poststructural- ist accountings of quotidian life fall short of the mark in recognizing the complexities of intersectional existence, yet the ‘‘subjectless’’ critique has such provocative pull on the queer imaginary that its intellectual claim of doing certain work for us is prima facie and seductive. The editors of ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ see the potential for a radical break with queer liberalism while concomitantly investing in a notion of queer as a political though unfixed referent. Can such high hopes for queer’s flexibility be able to contain the twenty-first-century contours of

black.female.queer? When the editors cite the recent and ‘‘significant body of work on theo-

ries of race,’’ however, they do not mention a single book by queer studies scholars who also happen to identify as black, female, and lesbian, although their work can be recognized under the moniker, woman of color femi- nism. In addition, while they acknowledge the importance of nation, state, governmentality, and sovereignty, they miss an opportunity to engage

a host of Native American studies scholars and their founding presence in

debates both here and abroad on the capricious nature of such terms. To point this out in the special issue of Social Text is to think through my own

intellectual work as a queer studies scholar, as the move away from the messiness of identity politics toward something that looked more fluid and inclusive almost necessitates a forgetting, a leaving behind of the parochial, often represented by black.female.queer. In essence, when queer theory looks outward, to remember Harper’s caution, it often engages in the particular ‘‘American’’ practice of forgetting black.female.queer. If she ap- pears at all, she is reproduced within the confines of a delimiting (histori- cal) racial practice, one for which we can have no accounting. To bring us back to that body is a risky move indeed, but my attempt here is not only to make that move but also to understand it as a move toward the relational, rather than the singular. Therefore, the ‘‘body’’ that I seek here has a very queer materiality, for it is simultaneously forever absent and always already present—we can always marvel at its ability to matter so much, and then not matter at all. Black being is deeply invested in whiteness, to the extent to which racist practice dictates how they and we belong to one another. My attempt here is not to throw shade on an extraordinary collection or to belittle the place of queer of color critique in the queer theory project. Rather, my questions point toward the larger issue of losing a queer black body. Citing black.female.queer in queer theory is a forgetting that has proportionate outcome across sexuality studies. Black.female.queer voices are foundational, but not generative, as there is little active engagement with the diversity of this relational voice. It is my contention that the overarching problem here is that queer of color critique is not solely addressing the remnants of identity politics, but the object of queer theory’s ongoing ridicule: a feminism that somehow turned the corner on the black body and never looked back. Underneath the critique of queer liberalism is actually an argument about feminist claims upon both the black body and its historical specificity. The editors of ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ acknowledge both the e≈cacy of ‘‘ ‘queer of color’ critique’’ and the extent to which such critique might contribute to what they call ‘‘queer intersectionality’’ (6). While earlier projects like ‘‘Plum Nelly’’ and Black Queer Studies see criti- cal race theory as a fruitful genesis, queer studies now embraces the cri- tique within critical race theory of a ‘‘U.S. nation-state’’–based ‘‘conceptual frame’’ as parochial, thus bringing to fruition the fear by black queer studies that lack of attention to a ‘‘diaspora’’ abroad might eventually hurt its inquiry. But the idea of the nation-state as United States based elides the

possibility that native governments exist in contested relationship with this nation-state, often unmarking and remaking its boundaries and turning the idea of ‘‘abroad’’ into home once again. It seems here that the queer reiteration of the ‘‘subjectless’’ critique produces material e√ects—too high to get over, too low to get under. In wanting to preserve some of the poststructuralist pie—a move that Alexander warns is di≈cult to sustain— ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ has to jettison something. The issue’s lead essay, ‘‘Punk’d Theory’’ by Tavia Nyong’o, engages the work of Cathy Cohen and, by extension, the problem of ‘‘intersection’’; and even in its concluding moment, it ri√s o√ of the work of Ann duCille in heralding the intersection as a dangerous place. Racial blackness and vernacular culture are at the heart of Nyong’o’s piece, and it is clear from the start that queer of color critique’s most valuable contribution to queer studies work is the relentless interrogation of this thing called ‘‘queer the- ory.’’ Joon Oluchi Lee reminds us: ‘‘While queer theory has made tremen- dous e√orts to interweave the political discourses of race, class, and gender in the theorization of queer identification, it is rarely the case that such ‘generous’ theoretical gestures actually make it out of the box into the practiced lives of sexualities and genders.’’ In the same breath Lee also aligns feminism with a problem particular to gay male theorizing: fear of the moniker ‘‘female.’’ He declares: ‘‘Gay male critics fear ‘female’ and in this they have an ally in second-wave feminism—because the work of gender identification is ultimately seen as a system of impermeable biolog-

ical boundaries, whose operation is totalizingly hierarchical.’’ Again, the specter of the biological appears at the precise moment feminism is called


account, and Lee is quick to note that the refusal of the ‘‘female’’ position


problematic for a queer (male) theory inherited from feminism. What is

problematic here is that Lee claims for ‘‘feminism’’ a totalizing perspective that is not supported by feminist critical attention to this issue. There was and still is a debate within feminism about the problem of the biological—

a problem that has been reinterpreted as ‘‘white’’ feminism’s claim on a

particular racial order. But this idea of ‘‘feminism’’ would have to separate woman of color feminism from the larger and therefore real feminist project, an exclusion that I have maintained elsewhere is more practiced critique than actual archival truth. π

Amy Villarejo’s ‘‘Tarrying with the Normative’’ on black history takes the

challenge posited in Ferguson’s book—to bring race and class (through Marxist analysis) to queer theory’s table—as foundational to her own method. Villarejo is right about Ferguson’s inheritance from British cul- tural studies, and hers is the only sustained critique of Ferguson’s claims in the collection of essays. Within that critique, Villarejo acknowledges Fer- guson’s fusion of ‘‘feminist critique with queer critique,’’ a recognition of alignment that deserves some scrutiny here, as the ‘‘feminist’’ project is taken by Villarejo and Ferguson to now be about ‘‘heteropatriarchy.’’ The major step forward here seems to be the privileging of a woman of color feminism within and as feminism. Villarejo’s quarrel with Ferguson stems from his deployment of the term ‘‘nonheteronormative’’ to both designate ‘‘a pathologizing racial logic’’ and ‘‘figure of defiance and critique’’ and from his treatment of sociology and literature as canonical equivalencies (72, 74). Her argument with Ferguson’s use of ‘‘nonheteronormative’’ as a both/and proposition cuts across the particular problem of citing black.female.queer in queer studies projects. The both/and position is not only hard to sustain, but also unwieldy. In Villarejo’s text, ‘‘African American’’ is often seen side by side with ‘‘exploitation, degradation, abjection, and exploitation’’ (73). Villarejo as- tutely marks the place where ‘‘African American’’ becomes too high to get over and too low to get under in the rhetorics of racist practice through which the term comes to be known by each and every one of us. ‘‘African American’’ is both a sign of contestation (revolution?) and exploitation. This problematic relationship to blackness returns me to Harper’s remarks in the epigraph to this chapter that even our attempts to escape such structured definition rely so heavily upon it that we inevitably must treat the encounter as an act of profound and impossible circumnavigation. Villarejo then proceeds to propose a counterreading by thinking through Ferguson’s missed opportunity in regard to the ‘‘critical potency of queer [which] o√ers ways to fly with language and desire away from

homology and

and with response (a√ect), a way to work in the interstices of contacts, a≈liations, relations’’ (75). In essence, Villarejo wants to preserve for queer of color critique the importance of queer theory’s openness to feeling and

a√ect. Because Villarejo’s critique is centered upon a sustained reading of Ferguson’s contribution to the field and his readings of literature, she does

[It] can o√er

a way to grapple with feeling

not have room to deploy other queer African Americanist readings of black ‘‘literature.’’ A host of black queer studies work on the place of the literary in black culture cannot be engaged here, and so there is a missed opportunity to document, at least via footnote, all of the dissenting queer black voices in this call to think through the place of the black literary imaginary in the queer of color critique project. This is the moment in Villarejo’s essay where a nod to the black studies project would create connection, if not relationship, between the two subfields. I would like to propose that the call to revere ‘‘women of color femi- nism’’ also serves to mask its historical specificity as well as contribute to its unmaking. The work of ‘‘intersectionality’’ as it is marked in the essays in ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ serves as an interesting case in point. The boldest challenge to ‘‘intersectionality’’—which always already has its foundational trace in Crenshaw’s early work and has been construed since then, thanks to Patricia Hill Collins, as a black feminist theoretical apparatus—is expressed in Jasbir Puar’s essay, ‘‘Queer Times, Queer As- semblages.’’ She writes:

The Deleuzian assemblage, as a series of dispersed but mutually im- plicated networks, draws together enunciation and dissolution, cau- sality and e√ect. As opposed to an intersectional model of identity, which presumes components—race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, age, religion—are separable analytics and can be thus disassembled, an assemblage is more attuned to interwoven forces that merge and dissipate time, space, and body against linearity, coherency, and per- manency. Intersectionality demands the knowing, naming and thus stabilizing of identity across space and time, generating narratives of progress that deny the fictive and performative of As a tool of diversity management, and a mantra of liberal multi- culturalism, intersectionality colludes with the disciplinary apparatus of the state. (127–28)

Having said all of this, Puar then cautions us with a footnote: ‘‘This is not to disavow or minimize the important interventions that intersectional theorizing makes possible and continues to stage, or the feminist critical spaces that give rise to intersectional analyses’’ (138; emphasis mine). I have

practiced a similar caveat at the start of my critique of queer critique; such premonitory statements indicate the presence of an unsettling anxiety. There are two gestures at work in this disclaimer: that the important interventions of intersectionality are known because they are unnamed, and that ‘‘intersectional analyses’’ are the particular property of feminism. Interestingly enough, several black feminists, chief among them Cathy Cohen, have already argued intersectionality’s narrowness, so why the anx- iety about minimizing a critique that has already been under intense scru- tiny? That Puar’s assessment of intersectionality’s feminist appropriation reads as its mandate is troubling; that she anticipates the critique is se- riously smart. In reading this collection of essays one witnesses the contemporary playing field for black.female.queer narrowed considerably: these bodies have resonance historically, but they do not figure as contemporary inter- locutors to engage, debate, or theorize around. The trans black prostitute that conjures up the tale of queer of color critique in Ferguson’s first iteration is indeed vestibular to culture: she is Vanna White turning the letters so you can see them and hopefully get paid. My argument here is not that black.female.queer critics have not been solicited for inclusion in the Social Text special issue; rather, my critique seeks to get beyond the exclusion/inclusion problematic that has dogged much of contempo- rary theorizing. My comments here are meant to engage the conditions under which something called black-queer-feminism (woman of color feminism) can be engaged. These conditions mandate a forgetting that is temporary but nonetheless quotidian (insofar as the repetition of such an exclusion is played out). Gayatri Gopinath is another contributor to the special issue of Social Text who acknowledges the contributions of critical race theory, specifi- cally the work of Stuart Hall, but the critical race citation here focuses on the conceptualization of diaspora from Hall rather than the United States– based critique grounded in an interrogation of everyday racism. When the queer meets diaspora in Gopinath’s ‘‘Bollywood Spectacles,’’ it enables and ‘‘becomes a way to challenge nationalist ideologies by insisting on the impure, inauthentic, nonreproductive potential of the notion of diaspora.’’ The ‘‘nonreproductive’’ gets requalified as ‘‘domestic space outside a logic of blood, purity, authenticity, and patrilineal descent’’ (158). While these

are laudable aims for a queer project, they do point toward the particular ways in which queer endeavors are marked by a compulsive theoretical privileging of the nonreproductive. As I have argued throughout this book, why should we assume that a queer (non)reproductive space is outside the bounds of racist practice? Moreover, given that queer families abound, why is ‘‘queer’’ marked as nonreproductive? But in Gopinath’s essay we do find a further articulation of Ferguson’s project as she reminds us that queer of color critique is poised ‘‘to reject the parochialism of American studies as well as the underlying heteronor- mativity of even its postnationalist versions’’ (159). The black queer studies concern about its own parochialism is echoed in Gopinath’s assessment of what queer of color critique can and will do, but the door opens, at least citationally, on a conversation with these scholars about the place of popu- lations at home in relationship to the overwhelming ‘‘heteronormativity’’ of the American studies project. Black queer studies has had much to say about this problem and the expectation should be that a conversation ensues; instead, this discourse falls between the cracks of a narrowly de- fined American studies and a retooling of the postnationalist space as heteronormative. In the Social Text collection we are ever reminded of the importance of ‘‘diaspora’’ as a critical move outward. This also leaves a native studies critic like myself wondering what to do with issues of native sovereignty and presence within the tightly construed matrix of United States–based versus diasporic critical engagements. One could certainly find fodder for a queer studies project in the fact that the only queer marriage in all of Oklahoma that was actually legal occurred under the auspices of the Cherokee nation. But how would a black queer studies or queer of color critique project open itself to a discussion of this queer romance if it is blind to the ways in which native peoples have also shaped discourse about the diasporic as well as the national, both at home and abroad? Even in the context of calling for renewed respect for contribu- tions by women of color to discourses about sexuality and nation, the di√erent parts of a new queer studies project are not speaking to one another. Toward the end of the Social Text collection, Michael Cobb assesses the intersection of race, religion, hate, and incest and observes that ‘‘blackness should not [be] merely testimony or autobiography. Blackness, instead,

functions most e√ectively as a powerful language of critique.’’ Ω This pull to the universality of (black) critique is definitely evident in the special issue and it reminds me of Hammonds’s call to see race (read black) as a ‘‘global sign.’’ But the call to think about ‘‘blackness as a powerful language of critique’’ produces a unity of vision within black intellectual work that is di≈cult to sustain. Moreover, in heralding our ability to see past the auto- biographical moment, we forget how importantly those quotidian experi- ences shape the diversity of black being. In calling for more attention to the quotidian materiality of critical hubris, I attempt in this book to think through how this loss of black biodiversity becomes evidence of an unset- tling critical anxiety. Cobb’s essay is one of the few in the collection, let alone in queer theory, to utilize the theoretical contributions of Hortense Spillers. I would like to take a moment by way of conclusion to return to one of her most influen- tial pieces, ‘‘Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,’’ which was written in 1987. In one pivotal moment in this essay, Spillers ventures to o√er the following: ‘‘In- deed, we could go so far as to entertain the very real possibility that ‘sexuality,’ as a term of implied relationship and desire, is dubiously appro- priate, manageable, or accurate to any of the familial arrangements under a system of enslavement, from the master’s family to the captive enclave. Under these arrangements, the customary lexis of sexuality, including ‘re- production,’ ‘motherhood,’ ‘pleasure,’ and ‘desire’ are thrown into unre- lieved crisis’’ (231). Spillers boldly suggests that sexuality’s very vocabulary has been altered by human being’s bizarre machinations under slavery. Cobb is right to ascertain that scholars need to return to Spillers’s work and its applicability to sexuality studies. If these categories—motherhood, plea- sure, desire, reproduction—in sexuality’s abridged dictionary are thrown into crisis by the institution of slavery, where does that leave the overall study of sexuality? Notice here that Spillers does not o√er a prescriptive analysis of the meaning of reproduction, motherhood, pleasure, or desire for black bodies; instead her critique hinges on a variety of pressures that slavery exerts upon all manner of human relation. Hammonds returns to the spirit of Spillers’s foundational piece when she remarks upon the ‘‘global sign’’ that race refuses to become in feminist and queer theorizing. Spillers’s observations also point toward a very important dialectic in the erotic life of slavery: that the conditions of contact imply ‘‘non-freedom for

both or either of the parties’’ and have reverberations ‘‘from the master’s family to the captive enclave.’’ Slavery’s influential arc, captured in Spillers’s pointedly grotesque arc of flesh separated from the body of the enslaved by the master or overseer’s whip, touches and irrevocably alters the dynamic between white and black bodies. My only slight correction here is in the relative distance Spillers maintains between ‘‘master’s family’’ and ‘‘captive enclave,’’ thus reproducing the idea that law and practice somehow cohere in the slaveocracy. But it is the lie of di√erence between us—‘‘master’s family’’ and ‘‘captive enclave’’—that makes what matters in slavery of bio- logical concern, thus making its repercussions and erotic life pertinent only to black life. In historical references to the importance of blackness to queer studies, this same separation between black and white is maintained, so that even when we marshal the history of colonialism and slavery for use in our analyses, these histories seem to be useful or only have meaning to black subjects. Does black femaleness carry the sign of history’s reach upon us so com- pletely that we must give her up in order to go about our theoretical busi- ness? Having jettisoned ‘‘reproduction’’ for heteronormativity, and having assigned black.female.queer a very high critical standard to live up to, the ability to speak to her quotidian messiness has been lost altogether. In Janet Halley’s mixed assessment of the question with which I began this section on queer studies work—what is the relationship between feminism and queer studies?—there is some consideration of the problem. In Split Deci- sions: How and Why to Take a Break from Feminism (2006), Halley spends a good portion of her time redacting key feminist arguments, intersecting them with one another and with theoretical paradigms from queer studies. She states, ‘‘I argue here for a politics of theoretic incommensurability’’ (3). By constituting queer theory as a ‘‘break’’ from feminism—one that she encourages—Halley has the inconvenient task of determining which argu- ments are most representative for both accounts. While I am all for a move toward agreeing to disagree in critical discourse, I am less enthusiastic about the methodology Halley employs to move us in this direction. In the sub-section of part 2 of Split Decisions ‘‘Convergentist and Diver- gentist Hybrid Feminism’’ Halley utilizes the Combahee River Collective Statement as a black feminist contribution to mainstream feminist theory. When she compares it to Mackinnon and Spivak, the (w)holes are evident

and one wonders why she chose a political manifesto instead of a piece of (black) feminist theory for her comparison. Why mix genres here? In essence, why not use Spillers, for example, or Mae Henderson? I am not trying to say that the collective and its statement has had little significance in feminist theorizing; what I am arguing for here is more attention (again) to the diversity of opinion among (black) feminists as well as some atten- tion to the political di√erences that genre demands and marks for scholars. But the observation above is both beside the point and part of my larger one as well: the diversity of voices of black feminist theorists cannot be taken into account because if they were the theoretical landscape would be altered to such a great extent that the queer project Halley envisions would find itself in ‘‘unrelieved crisis,’’ to echo Spillers. Halley’s redactions of pivotal critical stances within feminism and queer theory constantly urge us to think di√erently about what feminist theorizing is asking us to do (for women). In preparing scholars of sexuality studies to take a break from feminism, she considers what feminism asks of us by producing a series of lists as a rhetorical measure. The first list—gleaned from Adrienne Rich’s famous list in ‘‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’’ —is produced with the following caveat: ‘‘Do you like the ur-list of struc- turalist feminism? Or does it make you feel paralyzed? Take your time; really read it slowly; read it the way you would a poem by Gertrude Stein’’ (195). In this list the characteristics of male power are enumerated:

1) To deny women [our own] sexuality [by means of clitoridectomy and infibulations; chastity belts; punishment, including death, for lesbian sexuality; psychoanalytic denial of the clitoris; strictures against masturbation; denial of maternal and postmenopausual sensuality; unnecessary hysterectomy; pseudolesbian images in media and literature; closing of archives and destruction of docu- ments relating to lesbian existence]; 2) Or to force it [male sexuality] upon them [by means of rape (in- cluding marital rape) wife beating; father-daughter, brother-sister incest; the socialization of women to feel that male sexual ‘‘drive’’ amounts to a right; idealization of heterosexual romance in art, literature, media, advertising, etc., child marriage; arranged mar- riage; prostitution; the harem; psychoanalytic doctrines of frid-

gidity and vaginal orgasm; pornographic depictions of women responding pleasurably to sexual violence and humiliation (a subliminal message being that sadistic heterosexuality is more ‘‘normal’’ than sensuality between women)]; 3) To command or exploit their labor to control their produce [by means of the institutions of marriage and motherhood as unpaid production; the horizontal segregation of women in paid employ- ment; the decoy of the upwardly mobile token woman; male con- trol of abortion, contraception, childbirth; enforced sterilization; pimping; female infanticide, which robs mothers of daughters and contributes to the generalized devaluation of women]; 4) To control or rob them of their children [by means of father-right and ‘‘legal kidnapping’’; enforced sterilization; systematized infan- ticide; seizure of children from lesbian mothers by the courts; the malpractice of male obstetrics; use of the mother as ‘‘token tor- turer’’ in genital mutilation or in binding the daughter’s feet (or mind) to fit her for marriage]; 5) To confine them physically and prevent their movement [by means of rape as terrorism, keeping women o√ the streets; purdah; foot- binding; atrophying of women’s athletic capabilities; haut cou- ture, ‘‘feminine’’ dress codes; the veil, sexual harassment on the streets; horizontal segregation of women in employment; pre- scriptions for ‘‘full-time’’ mothering; enforced economic depen- dence of wives]; 6) To use them as objects in male transactions [use of women as ‘‘gifts’’; bride-price; pimping; arranged marriage; use of women as entertainers to facilitate male deals, e.g., wife-hostess, cocktail waitress required to dress for male sexual titillation, call girls, ‘‘bunnies,’’ geisha, kisaeng prostitutes, secretaries]; 7) To cramp their creativeness [witch persecutions against midwives and female healers as pogrom against independent, ‘‘unassimi- lated’’ women; definition of male pursuits as more valuable than female within any culture, so that cultural values become embodi- ment of male subjectivity; restriction of female self-fulfillment to marriage and motherhood; sexual exploitation of women by male artists and teachers; the social and economic disruption of women’s creative aspirations; erasure of female tradition]; and

8) To withhold from them large areas of the society’s knowledge and cultural attainments [by means of noneducation of females (60% of the world’s illiterates are women); the ‘‘Great Silence’’ regarding women and particularly lesbian existence in history and culture; sex-role stereotyping which deflects women from science, tech- nology, and other ‘‘masculine’’ pursuits; male social/professional bonding which excludes women; discrimination against women in the professions]. (195–97)

I reproduce the ‘‘ur-list’’ in its entirety to demonstrate its specific pur- chase, not only upon Halley’s envisioning of early queer feminism’s assess- ment of women’s situation, to echo Beauvior, but also upon our own conceptualizations of when and where black.female.queer enters into the historical arc of feminist theorizing. This list could easily serve as a mani- festo for the antislavery society, where the ways in which ‘‘[slaveholding and nonslaveholding] men’’ exert control over enslaved women seem very similar, but not one of the examples of male power includes the range of possibilities for the enslaved person, or mentions ‘‘slavery’’ as a constitutive practice of ‘‘male power.’’ I am not trying to argue that ‘‘slavery’’ should automatically be associated with black.female.queer; instead, what I want to point out here is the way in which this particular epoch in United States history is easily elided in both Rich’s and Halley’s schema. It is a forgetting that recalls the thorny place of the black female body in feminist account- ings of itself. It is as if the history of slavery literally belongs to someone else—it is another disciplinary terrain. Having fashioned this history as the property and responsibility of the subaltern others in United States culture, the project of feminist theorizing and, subsequently, queer theorizing can commence. Black.female.queer occurs in Halley’s reiterative enumeration as if it were contained in psychic brackets; brackets made even more seductive by Halley’s insistence that we read the ‘‘ur-list’’ as if it were ‘‘a poem by Gertrude Stein.’’ Later in her reading of how to take a break from feminism, Halley finds a way to reproduce Butler’s earlier attempt to make sense of ‘‘Eurocentrism’’ and the culture wars. By yoking black feminism to a mor- ally bankrupt and outmoded ‘‘convergence feminism,’’ Halley can then package ‘‘it’’ in her later ‘‘thought experiment’’ as an impossible apparatus for achieving (feminist) justice in legal jurisprudence. In a case involving

pregnant women at the workplace, she concludes: ‘‘Convergentist feminist antiracism and feminist postcolonial work seek solutions that merge the interests of black workers, o√shore workers, and pregnant women in the United States. And I agree that it is very important to seek possibilities of such merger, and to act on them politically. But even to see them clearly you have to be willing to see moments in which their interests don’t converge, and you have to be ready to decide when to give up and do things for one group of workers at the expense of another’’ (288). I am inclined to agree with her that at least in legal practice some interests will be accommodated over others. At the end of the last piece in her examination of specific legal cases, Halley can confidently assert: ‘‘One motive force driving the Brain Drain [in feminist scholarship] is, surely, the ferocious preclusion imposed on inquisitive minds and avid justice seekers by a paranoid structuralist and prescriptive convergentists presuppositions, indeed by the stricture that theory must create living space ’’ (341; emphasis mine). I must be honest and say that while reading Halley’s brilliant take on several complex and vexing legal decisions involving sex, gender, and sex- uality, I am in agreement with her about the legal and theoretical stakes of narrow (feminist) approaches to them. What I find here, however, is that the way in which Halley parses that theoretical universe does nothing (1) to represent the diversity of the black feminist position she then repudiates; (2) to challenge the foregoing (lesbian) feminist claim to women’s par- ticular situation; or (3) to address the ways in which the jettisoning of black.female.queer is a foundational turn in queer theorizing. What Halley has not taken a break from is feminist theory’s deployment of the black body and its insistent, even cloying material recall. Social Text ’s ‘‘What’s Queer about Queer Studies Now?’’ along with queer of color critique seek to redress this particular ‘‘wrong’’ in queer theorizing by centering their critique upon foundational texts in women of color feminism—a feminism that has its grounding in black feminist work. Caught in the middle between the struggle to forget and to remember, S.H.E. stands wholly outside or in vestibular relation to feminism and queer theory, respectively. ‘‘Aragorn, it is you who are now responsible for middle earth.’’ If we exclude all references to slavery’s economies of reproduction and desire, then we can make very discretionary claims about its influence

upon us, while simultaneously forgetting the (black and white, brown and red) bodies attached to its sorrow and woe. If we attach these bodies to a thoroughgoing feminist catalogue of degradation at the hands of men, then we will not be able to speak to the forgetting that must take place in order for queer theory (or feminist theory) to commence, because wouldn’t such a momentary lapse in responsibility, if not manners, war- rant the full force of angry black feminist response? It is my contention that we must break the cycle of our critical attachments by breaking with the tradition of producing black.female.(queer) in a historical register that matters only to her. By breaking with this mode of inquiry, we might be able to reach an epiphany of sorts—one that would allow us to see what happened to us collectively. This collectivity might restore just what we did and do to one another at the moment of our intimate interactions—erotic, racist, and otherwise. This is the erotic life of racism that this book en- deavors to unveil. It is the last repository and also perhaps the first of our a√ective desire(s). Much of this book has focused upon theoretical work in order to make

its larger point. In the conclusion I shift registers to examine the ‘‘touch’’ as

a metaphor for both our erotic commitments and our ‘‘biological’’ rela-

tions in the context of a literary reading. In the course of this examination,

I think through Derrida’s explication of the touch and utilize this framing

for a reading of what is generally thought to be an American classic about race, caste, and gender: Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! In sum, I tentatively seek to answer one of the most thoroughgoing speculations of this project:

what kind of readings would we create, if the lie of nonrelation was and is not available to us?


Racism’s Last Word

This concluding chapter is an experimental exploration of the intimacy upon which everyday racism relies. The work here is not focused upon egregious or spectacular acts of racist violence, but instead investigates the more quotidian acts of racism—the kind that separate (and simultaneously conjoin) black and white in family genealogies, the sort created by a simple touch or a word uttered between ‘‘blood strangers,’’ a term I deploy in the introduction to mark both the saliency of race as a trope and the absurd- ness of race as an ideology. In order to do this work, I deploy a series of scenarios, passages, and scenes to mine the connection between race and gender and what we understand as the experience—the feeling—of racism. The first section, ‘‘The Last Word,’’ reads Derrida’s provocative essay ‘‘Racism’s Last Word’’ and Toni Morrison’s musings on the same subject in order to explore the role of language in our understandings of how racism

is articulated. The second section, ‘‘Faulkner’s Touching Moment,’’ pro- vides a reading of Rosa Coldfield’s narrative in William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! that complicates the question of the touch. Throughout this reading, touch appears as an appropriate metanarrative for racism because it engenders outrage as well as identifies connection in past, pres- ent, and future. The attempt is to read racism through gendered and raced examples of its triumph. The touch, I suggest, manifests itself as the psy- chic life of di√erence, transforming two categories of being (human and nonhuman) into a charged space of pleasure and of possibility. The third section serves as a bridge between explications of Faulkner’s novel, using the controversy over Thomas Je√erson’s heirs and their final resting place to ask questions about the practice of slavery and its psychic life. The fourth section returns to Absalom and provides a reading of the cate- gory ‘‘human’’ in Rosa Coldfield’s refusal of Thomas Sutpen’s marriage proposal.

the last word

As I have argued earlier, in order to talk about race we need to understand its connection to racism. Such an exploration is even more necessary in an environment where our desire for color blindness has made it possible to separate race from racism, its constant companion. Critical musings about the end of race or about the inadequacies of the category altogether have assumed that race pilots itself through national narratives, fictional enter- prises, or family albums. This is not the case. Even as we pronounce the death of race, we cannot overlook the fact that our attempts to articulate it into oblivion, to pronounce the last word on race, simply have not worked. In keeping with the speculative nature of this chapter, I want to shift here to a metaphoric rendering of ‘‘the last word’’ in order to meditate upon our simultaneous search for the end of race and our strivings for an adequate articulation of it. An apt example of this arduous quest is Toni Morrison’s selection of the final word of her great novel Beloved. In her essay ‘‘Home,’’ published after the novel, she discusses its ending: ‘‘Some- one saw the last sentence of Beloved as it was originally written. In fact, it was the penultimate sentence if one thinks of the last word in the book as the very last sentence. In any case the phrase, ‘Certainly no clamor for a kiss,’ which appears in the printed book, is not the one with which I had originally closed the book.’’

Upon her editor’s suggestion, Morrison looked for a word that was not so ‘‘dramatic’’ or ‘‘theatrical’’ as the original, now erased ending. She continues:

I was eager to find a satisfactory replacement, because the point that gripped me was that even if the word I had chosen was the absolute

right one, something was wrong with it if it called attention to itself— awkwardly, inappropriately—and did not complete the meaning of the text, but dislodged it. It wasn’t a question of simply substituting

one word for another that meant the same

unhappy about it because ‘‘kiss’’ works at a level a bit too shallow. It searches for and locates a quality or element of the novel that was not, and is not, its primary feature. The driving force of the narrative is not love, or the fulfillment of physical desire. The action is driven by necessity, something that precedes love, follows love, shapes it, and to which love is subservient. In this case the necessity was for connec-

I am still

tion, acknowledgment, paying-out of homage still due. ‘‘Kiss’’ clouds that point. (6–7)

In closing her remarks on writing Beloved, Morrison adds: ‘‘My e√orts were to carve away the accretions of deceit, blindness, ignorance, paralysis, and sheer malevolence embedded in raced language so that other kinds of perception were not only available, but were inevitable. That is the work I thought my original last word accomplished; then I became convinced that it did not, and now am sorry I made the change. The trouble it takes to find just one word and know that it is that note and no other that would do is an extraordinary battle’’ (7). The right word can also bring ‘‘the acknowledgment’’ that puts the erotic life of the text in motion, a place in Beloved where categories of di√erence can also be at play. Morrison has not revealed what that word might be, but I can’t help but think that the original ‘‘last word’’ hovers somewhere between ‘‘fuck’’ and ‘‘touch.’’ Regardless, Morrison documents the quest for the penultimate pronouncement on race—if one can think of the novel as a relentless meditation upon slavery’s racist brutalities—as ultimately unfruitful. Nevertheless, she does capture the inadequacy of the word ‘‘kiss’’ to an articulation of fraught and dangerous relations be- tween white and black subjects under slavery’s racist imperative. Mor-

rison’s struggle with the word ‘‘kiss’’ and her attempts to work around ‘‘raced language’’ points to the complex nature of racism and our attempts as writers and critics to write a narrative of its permutations. Her reliance upon and repudiation of the erotic life of racism indicates that we do find racism in the arena where intimates make ‘‘connection.’’ The French philosopher Jacques Derrida also attempts to explore ‘‘the last word’’ in his essay from 1985 ‘‘Racism’s Last Word,’’ which is more aptly translated from the French as ‘‘The Last Word on Racism.’’ Derrida, how- ever, deploys the metaphor in a di√erent fashion. Speaking of the word ‘‘apartheid,’’ he notes that the word remains the same no matter what the natural language in which it is embedded. He observes that ‘‘no tongue has ever translated this name—as if all the languages of the world were defend- ing themselves, shutting their mouths against a sinister incorporation of the thing by means of the word, as if all tongues were refusing to give an equivalent, refusing to let themselves be contaminated through the con- tagious hospitality of the word-for-word’’ (331; emphasis mine). Derrida uncannily uses a tongue/turn similar to that employed by Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Janie, the primary pro- tagonist, pronounces: ‘‘Mah tongue is in mah friend’s mouth.’’ Feminist and African Americanist critics have consumed reams of white paper de- vising intricate and seductive theories about this statement. Surely one is that the phrase, ‘‘Mah tongue is in mah friend’s mouth,’’ is both a figure of speech and an erotic declaration; its mimetic qualities abound. If we take the tongue, we must also accept the word—‘‘the contagious hospitality of the word-for-word’’—where Hurston troubles Derrida. In general, many of Derrida’s critics often take exception to his focus upon the play of language, rather than upon the more concrete nature of material conditions. I would argue that Derrida’s language play opens up new possibilities for our understanding of racism and its legacy of action. In addition, his vision of racism points to our inability to own it; to see it as a possibility for past, present, and future. In working with the tongue and the word or, more precisely, with the simultaneity of repudiation and acceptance that so characterizes racism’s contradictory terrain, Derrida highlights the active nature of racism:

At every point, like all racisms, it [apartheid] tends to pass segregation o√ as natural—and as the very law of the origin. Such is the monstros-

ity of this political idiom. Surely, an idiom should never incline to- ward racism. It often does, however, and this is not altogether for- tuitous: there’s no racism without a language. The point is not that acts of racial violence are only words but rather that they have to have a word. Even though it o√ers the excuse of blood, color, birth—or rather, because it uses this naturalist and sometimes creationist dis- institutes, declares, writes, inscribes, prescribes. A system of marks, it outlines space in order to assign forced residence or to close o√ borders. It does not discern, it discriminates. (331)

Like Hurston, Derrida envisions tongues exchanging. His concept of

‘‘contagious hospitality’’ underscores the problem of treating the tongue as

a contaminant, insisting that the inevitable exchange (commingling) is

dangerous; that the act of transference and translation itself is corrupt. The hospitality he refers to here is often interpreted as from outside—and the implication is that apartheid therefore comes from some ‘‘foreign’’

place—that the word is not given to us by our ‘‘friends.’’ Thus ‘‘hospitality’’

is a contagion, making the wor(l)d a dangerous place. Perhaps the most

pernicious aspect of any sustained conflict between peoples is that phrases like ‘‘separate but equal,’’ ‘‘the final solution,’’ and ‘‘apartheid’’ are not the creations of institutions, of governing bodies, and of our enemies. They are also the inventions of our intimates, our friends, our neighbors, and our blood relations. Remember the transatlantic slave trade, Indian removal, and the Holocaust; witness Algeria in the 1950s; Bosnia in the 1990s—the list is endless. Friendship is often the first ‘‘gift’’ of war. The trope of the tongue works in two directions: we engage in a word for word, tongue for tongue reciprocation or we perform a refusal through abstraction—refusing to incorporate the word in our own lexicon (making

word and deed an aberration), rejecting it as someone else’s experience (racism is for or happens to one group over another), someone else’s language (the word does not befit the deed, the act), and ultimately, some- one else’s problem. And the problem of racism is always someone else’s to own—it has a place in that it occurs at the level of the everyday, but it does not have a home—it manifests, but only as a fantastic event—an aberration in an otherwise lovely day. Its exceptionality is its beauty. If the word does not have a place (no origin, no nation), a point of passing and passage (two tongues intertwined), it ceases to exist.

faulkner’s touching moment

In his essay ‘‘Le Toucher: Touch/To Touch Him,’’ Jacques Derrida ex- pounds upon the myriad objectives and complicated interactivity of the touch: ‘‘For to touch, so one believes, is touching what one touches, to let oneself be touched by the touched, by the touch of the thing, whether objective or not, or by the flesh that one touches and that then becomes touching as well as touched. This is not true for all the other senses: one may, to be sure, let oneself be ‘touched’ as well by what one hears or sees, but not necessarily heard or seen by what one hears and sees, whence the initial privilege of what is called touch’’ (136). Though touching a person may seem simple, it is anything but. Both physical and psychic, touch is an act that can embody multiple, conflicting agendas. It can be both a trou- bled and troublesome component in the relationship between intimates, as in the case of Derrida; or, alternatively, the touch mediates relations be- tween friends and strangers. π In fact, the touch can alter the very idea as well as the actuality of relationships, morphing friends into enemies and strangers into intimates. For touch can encompass empathy as well as violation, passivity as well as active aggression. It can be safely dangerous, or dangerously safe. It also carries a message about the immediate present, the possible future, and the problematic past. Finally, touch crosses bound- aries, in fact and imagination. Ironically, even though we shrink from our experience of quotidian racism, we are apparently incapable of living without categories of di√er- ence, even when those categories are at worse hurtful and at best fictions in and of themselves. My central questions here are as follows: ‘‘What makes di√erence work?’’ and ‘‘How do we accomplish its goals?’’ I again come back to racism as the action that makes race matter. In a psychoanalytic register, Freud o√ers an account of our need to di√erentiate. He surmises that ‘‘even where the original inclination to identification has withstood criticism—that is, when the ‘others’ are our fellow men—the assumption of a consciousness in them rests upon an inference and cannot share the immediate certainty which we have of our own consciousness.’’ Ω In other words, even when we recognize someone as ‘‘human,’’ we destroy the pleasure of recognition and of reciprocity. We do not permit ourselves fully to interpret or see the human we encounter as having the same conscious- ness or even the potential for the same as us. While my purpose here is not

to engage Freud’s complex deliberation(s) about the human psyche, it is noteworthy that the work of di√erence, as conceived of by Freud and perhaps as experienced by all of us to some extent, is never really complete. Our desire for absolute di√erence cannot be satiated. It keeps coming back to question the legitimacy of our own claim that we really are a single and unique consciousness. There is no endpoint to our gambits with the other, which breaks in upon our singularity, causing us to react indignantly, ‘‘Oh, it’s you again?’’ We feel the same burden when touched by another. The touch, crossing boundaries, a≈rms the inadequacy of this boundary be- tween selves. The power of the touch as both boundary and trespass is wonderfully illustrated in the following explication of one of William Faulkner’s great- est novels. In one now (in)famous scene in Absalom, Absalom!, Rosa Cold- field exhibits hysterical rage when Clytie (Sutpen’s ‘‘half black’’ daughter) arrests her ascent of the staircase at Sutpen’s Hundred by placing a hand upon her arm. Behind this gesture and the anger it provokes is a terrible story. For Faulkner’s most famous novel is organized around a family saga that takes place in the old and the new South and extends beyond the Civil War. In 1833, Thomas Sutpen arrives in the town of Je√erson, Mississippi, with a ‘‘design’’ to build a mansion and establish a hundred-acre planta- tion: ‘‘I had a design. To accomplish it I should require money, a house, a plantation, slaves, a family—incidentally, of course, a wife. I set out to acquire these, asking no favor of any man’’ (218). Shortly afterward, in 1838, he marries Rosa Coldfield’s older sister Ellen. As the novel takes several temporal and narrative shifts, we hear the convoluted tale of Sut- pen’s early years. Before his arrival in Mississippi, Sutpen’s first attempt at fulfilling his design goes awry when he discovers that the woman he mar- ries in Haiti is not white but Creole. He puts her aside in New Orleans and travels to Mississippi. But his design is again challenged when his son from this first union, Charles Bon, plans to marry his half-sister, Sutpen’s daughter and Rosa’s niece, Judith. Charles Bon is literally the past coming back to haunt Sutpen’s design. In order to prevent the marriage, Henry Sutpen (son of Judith and Thomas) kills Charles and then disappears. Henry’s reasons for committing murder are always a matter of speculation throughout the text. In the novel’s present tense (January 1910), the narrative is pieced to-

gether as Quentin Compson and Shreve Davenport sit in their Harvard dormitory recalling the story as told to Quentin by Rosa and his father, Colonel Compson. Rosa’s first-person narrative, contained in chapter 5 of Absalom, Absalom! encompasses both her return to Sutpen’s Hundred just after Henry Sutpen kills Charles Bon and the seven-month period when Rosa, Clytie, and Judith wait for Thomas Sutpen to return after the Civil War. When she arrives at the foot of the stairs in 1864, within two years of Ellen’s death, Henry Sutpen has killed Charles Bon and vanished; Judith, Bon’s intended, stands outside the door she will not open, clutching her wedding dress in one hand and the picture of Charles’s New Orleans wife (like father, like son) in the other. Clytie stands between Rosa and the door beyond which the dead body of Bon resides. In this signal passage, we find Rosa obsessed with Clytie’s ‘‘black arrest- ing and untimorous hand on my white woman’s flesh’’ (115). Listen to Rosa’s rage, which exemplifies my concept of ‘‘the touch’’:

Then she touched me, and then I did stop dead. Possibly even then my body did not stop, since I seemed to be aware of it thrusting blindly

still against the solid yet imponderable weight

me from the stairs; possibly the sound of the other voice, the single word spoken from the stair-head above us, had already broken and

parted us before it (my body) had even paused. I do not know. I know

only that my entire being seemed to run at blind full tilt into some- thing monstrous and immobile, with a shocking impact too soon and

too quick to be mere amazement and

something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous order- ing, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them But let flesh touch with flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too. Yes, I stopped dead—no woman’s hand, no negro’s hand, but bitted bridle-curb to check and guide the furious and unbending will—I crying not to her, to it; speaking to it through the negro, the woman, only because of the shock which was not yet outrage because it would be terror soon, expecting and receiving no answer because we both knew it was not to her I spoke: ‘Take your hand o√ me, nigger!’ (115)

Because there is

of that will to bar

What makes Rosa’s obsession with Clytie’s touch so remarkable is that even in the midst of absolute chaos and trauma, Rosa chooses to focus upon that touch and its possibility. Here, the touch assumes experiential knowl- edge, while it also calls upon its witnesses and players to testify to it as connection and repudiation, making it part of that person’s experience and daring her to dis-own it. The parallels to Derrida’s conceptualization of nations refusing an intimate exchange—‘‘word-for-word’’ refusal—are sev- eral and uncanny. When Rosa finally utters the word ‘‘nigger’’ at the end of this rambling scene, it is almost anticlimactic; she has already proven that the touch does transform, or at least it has the possibility to translate, to convey meaning from one to another. The touch is vividly personified and, as an entity in the text it is always already present—it does not happen to Rosa so much as it connects Rosa and Clytie in a past whose imbrication occurs through blood and law. Rosa and Clytie become, literally, blood strangers. Like Derrida’s conceit about racism’s incorporation and repudia- tion by national bodies, Rosa’s narrative refuses the touch at the same time that it proves its inevitability throughout time, rather than in time. In essence, the touch transforms, becomes legible because it moves beyond ‘‘the negro’’ and becomes ‘‘it’’; Rosa begins to see the touch as her adversary (‘‘I crying not to her, to it; speaking to it through the negro, the woman’’) and as she realizes this, she also embraces its unequivocal presence. Faulkner renders the touch between Clytie and Rosa as not solely vio- lent, but erotic. The touch is so compelling here that the prevailing narra- tive of race is undone and a multitude of possibilities find fruition. The language of the passage is entirely visceral—as Rosa’s body moves forward within the action of the novel, her mind is arrested and preoccupied with the inevitability of the touch. The mind/body split that Rosa endures mimics the structure of racism—how everyday people play the game of distancing themselves from racism by seeing it as not part of their daily routine but as someone else’s devastating failure at communication. She runs headlong into the ‘‘truth’’ of the past—her blood relationship to Sutpen’s black and white family—that renders the language of getting there absolutely inarticulate. Language is literally ‘‘broken’’—ungendered and unraced. It hovers in chapter 5 of Absalom, Absalom!, witnessing its own demise as there is no adequate language for Rosa’s experience of Clytie’s touch, which is why we have such a convoluted articulation of this moment

by Rosa. The touch they share potentially unmakes gender, as it dismantles racial di√erence because the two women are called upon (through Rosa’s voice) to contemplate the meaning of di√erence, to reside in the space where a gendered connection is made (im)possible by racism’s quotidian

assault. Rosa’s panic is made all the more inviting because of Clytie’s rela- tive silence—a silence that Faulkner makes very few attempts to move beyond. In another manifestation of di√erence, Rosa remarks: ‘‘Even as a child, I would not even play with the same objects which she [Clytie] and Judith played with, as though that warped and Spartan solitude which I called my

had also taught me not only to instinctively fear her and

what she was, but to shun the very objects which she had touched’’ (116). Faulkner identifies Rosa’s personification of ‘‘objects’’ as they become in- termediaries between one body and another. Rosa’s ‘‘objects’’ are constitu- tive of ‘‘the human.’’ How we become ‘‘human’’ then is mediated by an ever-present ‘‘touch’’ of the material, the object, the not-us, threatening incorporation. Moreover, what Rosa reacts to is not the threat of belonging to (sharing the same gene pool with) Judith and Clytie; she later says that she sees them as no di√erent than she. Rather, Rosa’s reaction to Clytie’s touch introduces the threat of belonging. But the anxiety caused by this threat is only perceived—it is only a performance, if you will, because each character in Absalom, Absalom! fully understands that the commingling which she or he loathes has already taken place. The ‘‘objects’’ at work in the book take on the position of the virtual body, representing both ‘‘ter- ror’’ and ‘‘pleasure’’ and eliciting a simultaneous response from the reader —titillating fear and absolute disavowal. The intimate moment that Rosa and Clytie share is ordinary. It is quo- tidian intimacy that forces us to realize the other as someone with whom we interact and have an impact upon; our acknowledgment of this con- nection represents the touch and its fruition. We do not create intimacy; it is there awaiting our recognition. Let me rephrase this: we are bound intimately to others whether we realize or acknowledge such connection. The touch is the sign without a language to make it legible to ‘‘others.’’ Rosa’s experience of Clytie’s touch creates a psychic presence so power- ful that it draws another woman, Judith Sutpen, into its web. In the end, the women—Rosa, Clytie, and Judith, like the three Fates—become ‘‘one


being’’ (129). For Faulkner, the touch ‘‘abrogates.’’ It nullifies our stubborn insistence upon separation between races, sexes, or nations, if you will. After all, in Faulkner’s ‘‘modernism,’’ black and white bodies do not always occupy separate spheres. What is at stake here is not presence at all, but the idea of it; the knowledge, no matter how circumscribed that ‘‘presence’’ is only (as with Clytie) half the story.

jefferson’s grave disturbance

In spring 2001, npr’s Morning Edition ran a report about the Thomas Je√erson Heritage Organization and its attempt to preserve the ‘‘character’’ and ‘‘reputation’’ of our third president. The organization had produced a six-hundred-page report stating that the dna evidence linking Je√er- son to Sally Hemings’s children was inconclusive. John Work, an eighth- generation relative of Je√erson and president of the Thomas Je√erson Heritage Society, was ‘‘deeply disturbed by the thought that President Jef- ferson slept with a young slave.’’ What astounds me is that the relatives who champion Je√erson do not see the fact that he owned slaves in the new republic as any kind of stain on his ‘‘character’’ or ‘‘reputation.’’ Je√erson’s detractors see the connection to Hemings as evidence of the ‘‘complicated’’ nature of early American society. His advocates see this ‘‘evidence’’ as a complete occlusion of what it means to be a ‘‘founding father’’ in the first place. What is in jeopardy is (white) paternity. In addition to this report, npr also ran a story on Alice Randall’s novel The Wind Done Gone, a parody of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind told as a series of diary entries by the illegitimate and enslaved half-sister of Scarlett O’Hara. In its first attempt, the Mitchell estate successfully sued to stop the initial publication of Randall’s parody, citing violation of copy- right law by infringing upon the estate’s sequel rights. The decision was eventually overturned in appellate court, and The Wind Done Gone even- tually reached the public. Cheryl Crowley of npr interviewed several writ- ers and critics about the book, one of whom was Lauren Berlant of the University of Chicago. All of them noted the dominance of the now in- famous classic, how its ‘‘mythic portrayal of the South’’ is more widely read and available than histories of ‘‘plantation life’’ and ‘‘reconstruction.’’ In addition, Berlant, speaking for the academy, argued that the novel has achieved a kind of ‘‘normative’’ status in the imagination, providing a

cultural fantasy that endures. Even Je√erson’s own words cannot curb our lust for the fantasy of slavery—its ‘‘human’’ refuse, if ‘‘refuse’’ here denotes both ‘‘trash’’ and ‘‘renunciation.’’ In speaking about our nation’s ‘‘manners’’ in Notes on the State of Virginia, Je√erson remarks:

There must doubtless be an unhappy influence on the manners of our people produced by the existence of slavery among us. The whole commerce between master and slave is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submissions on the other. Our children see this,

and learn to imitate it; for man is an imitative animal. This quality is

The parent storms, the child

the germ of education in

looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy

who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circum- stances. (168)

We are left to wonder if Je√erson is that prodigy and, therefore, excep- tion to the will to tyranny. If the root of the word ‘‘prodigy’’ vacillates between the marvelous and the monstrous, the potential for human action is so mercurial here as to be of no consequence. Here, the psychic life of language holds open the poles of slavery’s behavioral enterprise. The in- stitution of slavery is truly what Coleridge sought in the demonic imagina- tion: a beautiful but horrific sublime, a state wherein all possibility, imag- ined or otherwise, is managed and contained. Je√erson is Sula watching her mother burn, not out of spite but interest. Moreover, this passage is flooded with what I would call negative language about the category of the human. In Je√erson’s piece, human exchange gives way to ‘‘commerce’’ and any and all human connection is arrested by a series of relations that makes the figures in Je√erson’s hypothetical one with the machinery of slavery itself. The possibility of attaining or engaging in the kind of status be- stowed upon the category ‘‘human’’ is withheld from everyone in Je√er- son’s short narrative and what we are left with are the ‘‘odious pecu- liarities’’ that also manage to thrive without a proper name.

Je√erson’s poignant dismantling of the human through the perpetua- tion of a pervasive and therefore dominant narrative makes American slavery legible only as a fiction—and yet one worth preserving by any means necessary. The sexual practice of the nation’s third president and the story at the root of Gone With the Wind are both haunted by touch: the image of Je√erson sleeping with (touching) Sally Hemings, or the idea of Scarlett O’Hara’s (half) black sister putting her pen to paper (touching) the legacy of Scarlett and Rhett. The prohibition against the touch extends even to the grave, as Je√erson’s relatives and those of Sally Hemings con- tinue to quarrel about the burial ground at Monticello. The idea of sepa- rate but equal ground annoyed descendants of Hemings, one of whom remarked, ‘‘Nothing’s changed in two hundred years, has it?’’ On the other hand, John Work sent a letter to over seven hundred family members, ‘‘complaining that the lines between the two cemeteries ‘would blur’ over time and lead to ‘a graveyard of Je√erson’s descendants, both real and imagined .’ ’’ Whiteness forms the stu√ of the ‘‘real’’ and blackness is al- ways already imagined territory. Je√erson’s ‘‘white’’ relatives want to spare his legacy, his image from the ‘‘odious peculiarities’’ associated with slav- ery; his ‘‘black’’ relatives want to put an end to our understanding of such relations as ‘‘odious’’ or ‘‘peculiar’’ at all. When we think of slavery in America, we’d rather have the violent touch of enslaved bodies or the love that dare not speak its name—both ‘‘accounts’’ serve as romanticized fic- tions of past events. We are constantly hovering between these two inven- tions and are reminded that any attempt at the ‘‘truth’’ about slavery is simply unavailable to us. John Work’s racism polices the border between black and white, male and female. At this contested border stands the body of a black woman; the fight over generation(s) and our claim upon it and them always enlists a gendered and raced standard. If touch can be interpreted as the action that bars one from entry and also connects one to the sensual life of another, then we might go so far as to say that racism has its own erotic life. It is the particular legacy (if not genius) of the Confederacy that it was able to convince an entire nation to look toward the future for events that had already taken place in the past; to believe that emancipation would result in rampant miscegenation. Think about the kind of shame and then rage you might provoke when you ask someone to articulate the problem of racism (I am thinking of Du Bois

here)—not from someone else’s history but from their own. Even though property is everything in America, you will find di≈culty in getting your neighbor to ‘‘own’’ this small piece of our collective pie. Let me o√er the following series of relationships. Our understanding of slavery as Americans vacillates among the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some see its touch as violent; others, like the purveyors of the legacy of Mitchell’s novel, view ‘‘it’’ as doing more good than harm. Any attempt to revisit this myth called the past is likely to be viewed as just plain ugly. In Faulkner’s imaginary the abrogation of the touch is precisely the problem:

we are flailing at institutional structures like family, like race, without the proper implement; for Faulkner it is the touch that both sears the flesh and provides the opportunity for its suture.

so it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear

The quotation that guides the argument in this section comes from the next to last chapter of Absalom, Absalom! The novel’s signal and single in- vestigative rationale goes without question and without answer, as Quen- tin’s recounting of Sutpen’s family saga continues at a furious pace while Shreve interjects his own interpretation of the events. In this moment, Quentin imagines Bon saying to Henry: ‘‘So it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear’’ (293). Henry does not answer, because the sentence has no question mark. Moreover, because the question (or lack thereof) comes from all of the sons of the novel, π it stands without a proper host, without the ‘‘hospitality’’ or invitation that would let it loose on the chosen family; without the embodiment necessary to bring the word to fruition, or into flesh. That this question is never answered or asked in Absalom, Absalom! is perhaps the silence into which the last word on racism enters. So, too, racism’s last word will never be the end of ‘‘it’’ surely, only a mark of its repudiation. Miscegenation, as the space of commingling and (un)like a vacuum, drags more than just race into its orbit. It also takes categories like brother/sister, human/animal, and pro- duces an end product that is now the ‘‘us’’ that we used to call ‘‘them.’’ The absolute lack in which Faulkner’s miscegenation/incest paradigm finds itself embedded is a measure of the tension between an emerging American model and an existing European model of the incest narrative; a model epitomized by the tragedy of Oedipus and trivialized in the Ameri- cas as a space without trauma or even the resolution that can result from

remorse. If Oedipus blinds himself to the ‘‘truth’’ of his own sexual life, the American equivalent is not even on the horizon of appropriate responses of fear and shame. The response, articulated in Faulkner as silence—for it is a waste of time to tell someone what they always already know—is always ‘‘so what.’’ It is revisited in Charles Bon’s rambling love letter to his sister Judith. His words are filled with arrogant resignation:

We have waited long enough. You will notice how I do not insult you either by saying I have waited long enough. And therefore, since I do

not insult you by saying that only I have waited, I do not add, expect me. Because I cannot say when to expect me. Because what WAS is one thing, and now it is not because it is dead, it died in 1861, and

therefore what IS it was not even alive

strangely enough, included among those who are doomed to live.

I now believe that you and I are,

Because what IS is something else again because


Bon regards his union with Judith as inevitable and therefore allies himself with a time that exists outside his own actions in the novel—his is an existential dilemma, fraught with erotic circumstance. My call for a revised incest paradigm is by no means original, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari have signaled the end of the psychoanalytic mode of the Oedipus complex with their introduction of theories of the ‘‘anti-Oedipus’’ model. But my desire to see a revised paradigm has as its rationale countless testimonials of recovered memories of incest trauma in the 1980s and 1990s—from published scholarly articles to talk show venues. It became patently clear that the ‘‘fact’’ of incest wasn’t so much a problem for readers—and, in particular, audiences across the country—as their reaction to it. In an American Oedipal myth, the son wakes from his sister’s bed and eyes you with defiance—a practiced nonchalance bred in the bosom of slavery’s enterprise. Ω The ‘‘so what?’’ is loud, clear, and never cautious, never accompanied by the constant companion of wrongful transgression: contrition. What ‘‘survivors’’ and ‘‘victims’’ alike clamored for was an audience—someone to ‘‘listen,’’ and in that listening acknowl- edge the problem and pain of incest. What they got was a stubborn refusal to see the danger in insouciance. In addition, and perhaps more radically, our conservative understand-

ing of the incest paradigm also provides a neat separation between the human and the animal. Incest functions for the family much like race functions for the nation—both simultaneously keep and clean house. The problem is that incest and race do not and have not functioned as barriers between family members or nation-states; they are both tiny little fictions that preserve our sense of separateness and belonging. Nothing disturbs the project of belonging more fully than the play at its outer boundary, where family and nation, in their more celebratory mo- ments, stake a collective claim upon the di√erence between the human and the animal. In this register, a radical reading of Faulkner’s work might prove fruitful. While Faulkner’s work does indicate that his characters change very little over time—(there is no amazing grace in Faulkner’s cosmos, only a pervasive relentlessness)—the status of the human as a principal site of inquiry is given less privilege than the how and the what (a cow, human chattel, an indecipherable ledger) of human interactions. Faulkner’s human characters’ attempt to demonstrate a range of human emotions, their obsession with a kaleidoscope of di√erences and their metaphorical equivalents, marks their journey in each narrative as wholly about something other than the human. The information that Faulkner’s characters carry with them and the way they pass on the memory of slavery and removal (I am reminded of Je√erson’s chapter on manners here) is to engage in certain practices, ritual and habitual, that circumscribe the hu- man. At the same time, any information that we or the characters might have about the past is doomed to be lost in a present where such informa- tion is rendered useless. This problem is most recognizable in the extent to which a particularly American relationship to incest is emphasized in Absalom, Absalom! At the end of the novel, we have to ask ourselves: What is the ‘‘it’’ that Quentin does not ‘‘hate’’? The very end of the narrative suggests that there are humans interacting, dependent upon and independent of one another, but there is also a system—call it another narrative, call it the same one— that continues to trump what it means to be human altogether. Shreve is convinced that slavery is about human refuse: that the South is doomed is evidenced, not by practice but in and through the characters or bodies left in its wake. That Rosa and Quentin engage in a dance of listening and telling that is rendered obsolete by the structures of slavery that make the

dance necessary in the first place is a point to which I now return. For Quentin, it is the practice (of slavery’s economy, of incest’s anti-Oedipal refrain) that continues, so as he attempts to tell the story and is constantly interrupted by Shreve, he is reminded of the practices of the slavocracy that give rise to his/our present circumstances. Although dated, Irving Howe’s remarks upon the consciousness of white men in Faulkner’s novels still have some resonance: ‘‘Beneath the white man’s racial uneasiness there often beats an impatience with the devices by which men keep themselves apart. Ultimately the whole apparatus of separation must seem too weari- some in its constant call to alertness, too costly in its tax on the emotions, and simply tedious as a brake on spontaneous life.’’ Howe rightly identi- fies the gendered nature of black/white relationships in Faulkner’s cosmos. Quentin’s refusal to listen to Rosa’s narrative is an indication of how slav- ery’s remains are not about the human, as much as they are about systems, manners, and ultimately devastating practices. Perhaps this is why Rosa refers to her youth as ‘‘that warped and spartan solitude which I called my childhood, which had taught me (and little else) to listen before I could comprehend and to understand before I even heard’’ (116). Unlike Rosa, Quentin is not bound to the reciprocation required by the act of storytelling. Faulkner writes:

But Quentin was not listening, because there was also something

which he too could not pass—that door, the running feet on the stairs beyond it almost a continuation of the fatal shot, the two women, the

negress and the white girl in her underthings

the door, the yellowed creamy mass of old intricate satin and lace

the two of them, brother and sis-

ter, curiously alike as if the di√erence in sex had merely sharpened the common blood to a terrific, an almost unbearable, similarity, speaking to one another in short brief staccato sentences like slaps.

spread carefully on the bed

pausing looking at


Quentin repudiates Rosa’s word for the arrogance of his own. Had he listened to Rosa’s story, he might have found a way out; a break in the constant rehearsal of the same practices that relegate the human in Absa- lom, Absalom! to the heap of remains created by slavery’s enduring legacy.

We have to remember that Quentin is not an agent of the past, he is only privy to its memory; he does not know what happened, so that the detail of the above scene merely announces a resurfacing of his own personal quagmire—his own desire to sleep with his sister. In fact, we could say that Quentin’s only desire in Absalom, Absalom! is to extract meaning from the narrative that contributes to his own personal and incestuous quest. A quest marked by miscegenation as well. Rosa’s narrative—contained almost entirely in chapter 5 of the novel—is the absolute repudiation of the practices imbedded in slavery that allow for its continuance. For the characters in Faulkner’s ‘‘human’’ tragedy, actions are preordained—subject not only to history (dismantled by modernism’s blunt instrument) but also to other structures that exist in a time outside the novel’s telling of ‘‘human’’ stories. In one of the novel’s most important confrontations, Sutpen, during a ‘‘minute’s exchange,’’ tells rather than asks Rosa to be his wife. She recalls this ‘‘courtship’’ in two moments; the first:

‘‘He talking not about me or love or marriage, not even about himself and to no sane mortal listening nor out of any sanity, but to the very dark forces of fate which he had evoked and dared, out of that wild braggart dream where an intact Sutpen’s Hundred which no more had actual being now as though in the restoration of that ring to a living finger he had turned all time back twenty years and stopped it, froze it’’ (136). And the second: ‘‘I was (whatever it was he wanted of me—not my being, my presence: just my existence, whatever it was that Rosa Coldfield or any young female no blood kin to him represented in whatever it was he wanted—because I will do him this credit: he had never once thought about what he asked me to do until the moment he asked it)’’ (137). In both excerpts, ‘‘being’’ is interpreted as the house (Sutpen’s Hundred) and the absence of Rosa, of the human subject altogether. Rosa’s choice is a hard one; for as she vio- lently rejects becoming Sutpen’s common-law (and then, perhaps, legal) wife she experiences a simultaneous reification and absolute abjection: she gives up the right to become property for what is proper, only to become the very thing that she resists. In this scene, whiteness is categorically unable to transform one into a viable subject in the eyes of the larger community. The minute Rosa attempts to substantiate her whiteness, her di√erence (she is not Clytie, or Judith, or the now deceased Ellen), is the moment in which she loses her claim to that category. Rosa’s earlier en-

counter with Clytie’s touch, with the failure of the authority of whiteness, begins to inform her decision in this case. Regardless of her obsessive repudiation of it, the touch allows Rosa to witness her connection to Judith and to Clytie, so that when Sutpen returns and o√-handedly does not ask but states that Rosa will marry him, she sees her fate as a white woman in relationship to the two women with whom she shared a house. The con- fluence of miscegenation, incest, and war catapults Rosa into a decision to step out of slavery’s everyday life. As she recognizes this, she seems to repudiate being like Judith or Clytie—and this move initially appears as the preservation of white womanhood that we expect from Rosa. Sutpen’s return, however, bears no acknowledgment of Rosa: Judith is ‘‘daughter’’ and Clytie retains the recognition of her name (‘‘Ah, Clytie’’), but for Rosa there is nothing but complete objectification and Sutpen’s remedy to this predicament is to o√er Rosa a marriage of sorts. Sutpen’s ‘‘touch’’ (or its absence) brings the erotic life of the novel to the forefront. For his command of marriage here indicates a continuance of past practices rather than a creation of a future contract or coupling. Rosa recalls the scene: ‘‘[He] came and stopped and put his hand on my head and (I do not know what he looked at while he spoke, save that by the sound of his voice it was not at us nor at anything in that room) said, ‘You may think I made your sister Ellen no very good husband. You probably do think so. But even if you will not discount the fact that I am older now, I believe I can promise that I shall do no worse at least for you’ ’’ (135–36). It is a ‘‘ceremony’’ where Sutpen is ‘‘both groom and minister’’ (136). He has all the power of subjectivity, and for Rosa to become a wife she will have to accept all loss of meaning in such a title for herself and, as her memory ensures us, for all three women at Sutpen’s Hundred. Moreover, she will also be unable to engender another generation that can inherit the gift of whiteness. Rosa goes to her fate as a picker, spinster, ghost with resignation —she loses the very whiteness that she so ardently defends from the begin- ning of chapter 5. It is the very practice of white female subjectivity and Rosa’s desire for it that keeps the economics (blood, in this case) of slavery intact; Rosa discovers that a step outside of this economy surely entails the death of the subject, as she understands it, but it is a risk she is willing to take. And in doing so, Rosa becomes the perfect counterpart to Sutpen (a man obsessed with the practice of [racist] outrage): a woman who abso-

lutely repudiates the substantiation of white subjectivity that racist practice requires. The residual e√ect of Rosa’s renunciation is that she cannot rec- oncile herself with her own actions. Sutpen’s touch—his own desire to continue racist practice—locks them both in the dance of racism’s after- math, as Rosa’s rage toward Sutpen colors all relationships with him. With or without marriage or commingling, the erotic life of Sutpen’s design and its repudiation determine the tenor of the novel. When Rosa and Sutpen enter the scene of proposal and potential coupling, Rosa is taken to the outer boundary of race and incest: she moves into the space of the human and animal; she sees the chattel she will become if she accepts Sutpen’s vulgar o√er, and also what she will be without it. Between a rock and a hard place, Rosa accepts the inevitability of por- ousness—she understands the separation of white and black and, by exten- sion, human and animal as not only impossible but dangerous. In the seams of this narrative is that racial shibboleth, to which we have become so accustomed that resisting it is futile. When we pay attention to the erotic life of racism, we move onto another playing field altogether where we must abandon the positions that hold white and black being in such static relation.

On the staircase or in the parking lot, we mark the time/space continuum of our belonging. Cars, people, children, come and go on that same pave- ment where this book began, and I do not know whether the Safeway has been leveled for another strip mall or if it stands still, beckoning us to some version of the quotidian in which we all share. In our reiterations of slavery’s several endeavors, it is time to write a new chapter of our rela- tion(s) as truly interdisciplinary, where the dangerous work of the every- day has some transformative (phenomenological?) agency. This book is just one attempt to remember what quotidian moves we must make in order to contain our racial feeling, and how the work of racism is impor- tant to that practice. To bring us back to a beginning of sorts, ‘‘You can’t be what you were / So you better start being / just what you are.’’



The subtitle of this introduction is taken from a translation of the title of Jacques Derrida’s essay ‘‘Racism’s Last Word.’’ Parts of this chapter and the conclusion were published as ‘‘The Last Word on Racism: New Directions in Critical Race Theory,’’ South Atlantic Quarterly 104, no. 3 (2005): 403–23.

1. The term ‘‘critical race theory’’ reflects its indebtedness to and significant departure from the Frankfurt school’s Marxist cohort. For an analysis of the impor- tant legal theory behind the critical race theory movement, see Crenshaw et al., eds., Critical Race Theory. In the introduction to the volume, the editors write that ‘‘although Critical Race scholarship di√ers in object, argument, accent, and em- phasis, it is nevertheless unified by two common interests. The first is to understand how a regime of white supremacy and its subordination of people of color have been created and maintained in America, and, in particular, to examine the relationship

between that social structure and professed ideals such as ‘the rule of law’ and ‘equal protection.’ The second is a desire not merely to understand the vexed bond be-

tween law and racial power but to change it’’ (xiii). By rejecting the idea that the aim of intellectual work should be objectivity, critical race theory maps the possibilities for intimate connection between author and subject, community and academic enterprise. See also Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic who in Critical Race Theory make the claim that ‘‘racism is ordinary, not aberrational’’ (7).

2. The fbi exhumed the body of Emmett Till from its Alsip, Illinois, burial spot

in 2005 after federal prosecutors reopened the investigation into his 1955 murder. Investigators found that an autopsy had never been performed on Till’s body at the time of his death and that the cause of death had never been determined. A documentary film about the murder suggested that forensic evidence links others besides the defendants Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam to his death. Bryant and Milam were acquitted of Till’s murder by an all-white jury, but later told Look magazine that they were responsible for it. See Monica Davey and Gretchen Ruethling, ‘‘After 50 Years, Emmett Till’s Body is Exhumed,’’ New York Times, June 2, 2005; Debra

Pickett, ‘‘Till’s Well-Preserved Body Exhumed: Autopsy Planned in Federal Probe of Boy’s 1955 Murder,’’ Chicago Sun-Times, June 2, 2005; Gretchen Ruethling, ‘‘F.B.I. Will Exhume the Body of Emmett Till for an Autopsy,’’ New York Times, May 5, 2005, and ‘‘Kin Disagree on Exhumation of Emmett Till,’’ New York Times, May 6, 2005; Kyle Martin, ‘‘fbi Defends Its Decision to Exhume Till’s Body,’’ Greenwood Commonwealth, May 16, 2005; and Shaila Dewan, ‘‘A Crescendoing Choir from the Graveyards of History,’’ New York Times, August 21, 2005. On the 1998 dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas, see Carol Marie Cropper, ‘‘Black Man Fatally Dragged in Possible Racial Killing,’’ New York Times, June 10, 1998 and ‘‘Town Expresses Sadness and Horror over Slaying,’’ New York Times, June 11, 1998; Rick Lyman, ‘‘Man Guilty of Murder in Texas Dragging Death,’’ New York Times, February 24, 1999, and ‘‘Texas Jury Picks Death Sentence in Fatal Dragging of Black Man,’’ New York Times, February 26, 1999; ‘‘Trial Begins for Second Suspect in Dragging Death,’’ New York Times, September 14, 1999; ‘‘Second Man on Death Row in Dragging of Black Man,’’ New York Times, Septem- ber 24, 1999; and ‘‘Third Defendant Is Convicted in Dragging Death in Texas,’’ New York Times, November 19, 1999.

3. Miles and Brown, Racism, 88. See also Grosz, The Nick of Time, for a discussion

of our misconception of Darwin’s famed notion of ‘‘survival of the fittest’’ and its relationship to time, gender, and race.

4. Toni Morrison, Beloved, 190.

5. In thinking through law and custom, Charles Mills observes that ‘‘the Racial

Contract establishes a racial polity, a racial state, and a racial juridical system, where the status of whites and nonwhites is clearly demarcated, whether by law or custom.

And the purpose of this state, by contrast with the neutral state of classic contrac- tarianism, is, inter alia, specifically to maintain and reproduce this racial order, securing the privileges and advantages of the full white citizens and maintaining the subordination of nonwhites’’ (The Racial Contract, 14). I can think of no bet- ter interlocutor for Mills than the work of David Theo Goldberg in studies such as Racist Culture, The Racial State, and Anatomy of Racism. Racist Culture is a graduate-school primer on racism, the Enlightenment, and how racist exclusions perpetuate structural inequalities. The Racial State is an extension of the first book

and focuses on the state as the arbiter of racial expression. Anatomy of Racism is an edited volume with contributions from Kwame Anthony Appiah, Lucius Outlaw, Frantz Fanon, Nancy Leys Stepan, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, and Sander L. Gilman, among others. Goldberg’s e√ort in this text seems to be to outline the various contours of ‘‘race talk’’ (xi).

6. Piper, ‘‘Passing for White, Passing for Black,’’ 250.

7. Gillian Harkins in Everybody’s Family Romance proposes that we pay attention

to the ‘‘latent radicalism of 1990s narratives’’ (9). In her introduction she writes:

‘‘The book reads incest as a trope bridging changing formations of U.S. national- ism, one that exploits the modern coupling of family and nation to recode violence and hegemony in formations of emergent social life. Thus I argue that incest both reveals hidden forms of gendered violence and lends itself to new hegemonic forms of domestic consumption. But this book also reads incest as a trope able to inter- rupt this revelatory hegemony, stealing away from the enclosures of either residual forms of nationalism or emergent forms of social organization’’ (4). Harkins takes seriously Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s charge in Empire that in order to unseat the particularly dangerous hold that neoliberalism has had on contempo- rary political culture, new narratives and aesthetic interventions must be brought to life. See in particular Harkins’s assessment of how a ‘‘refunctioned incest trope might be used to remake the generational borders of kinship’’ in chapter 5, ‘‘Con- sensual Relations: The Scattered Generations of Kinship’’ (188). Her review of the

Rind study should be of particular interest to scholars working in fields across race, sex, gender, and sexuality. I return to a discussion of antineoliberal thought in chapter 3.

8. Kwame Anthony Appiah calls this particular predicament ‘‘cognitive inca-

pacity’’ (‘‘Racisms,’’ 6). For Appiah, this means that even when one is confronted with overwhelming evidence that one’s beliefs are invalid, one will still hold onto archaic forms of knowledge, especially if such knowledge requires a reflection upon

one’s own self-image or, more drastically, a shift in the redistribution of wealth or privilege.

9. In their guest column for pmla , ‘‘What Does Queer Theory Teach Us about

X?,’’ Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner conclude that ‘‘queer commentary has

tried to drive into visibility both the cultural production of sexuality and the social context of feeling’’ (347).

10. Robert Reid-Pharr’s work in Conjugal Union and Once You Go Black makes

him one of this generation’s most important critics of the black intellectual tradi-

tion. It is a shame that for Reid-Pharr the black intellectual is always already figured as male, thereby making his provocative and insightful musings rigorously gen- dered and, as such, less useful to other companion projects. Nevertheless, the sentiments expressed in Once You Go Black parallel many of my observations here about how blackness is taken to be understood from within and without. As Reid- Pharr notes, ‘‘neither Black American identity nor racialized oppression exempted one from participation in the maintenance—and rearticulation—of the main struc- tures of society, including those structures that work to oppress oneself and ones community’’ (41). Reid-Pharr’s work urges us to reevaluate our insistence of the black subject’s embeddedness—in community and in our narratives about it. As Reid-Pharr pronounced in Conjugal Union, ‘‘I reject the notion that the black body

During the antebellum period intellectuals

is some species of the always already

began the arduous, awkward process of establishing the peculiarity of the black body, the distinctiveness that could never be exorcised. I utilize the already impos- sibly overdetermined notion of black embodiment, then, to refer, not to some demonstrable physical fact, but to a specifically American ideological e√ect in which race is always produced on a two-dimensional black/white axis’’ (6). My work returns to the production of that binary and the static situationality of black being to understand what is lost and what is gained by holding ‘‘it’’ captive in such restrictive critical sights. 11. Spillers, Black, White, and in Color, 208.

12. Michael Jackson, ‘‘Wanna Be Starting Something,’’ Thriller (1982).

13. Constitutive of this shift away from race to racism is also an overwhelming

need to break ‘‘with the black-white racism problematic’’ and instead focus on what Antonia Darder and Rodolfo Torres describe as ‘‘how best to conceptualize multiple racisms and racialized formations within the context of demographic

shifts, changing capitalist class relations, and global socioeconomic dislocations’’ (After Race, 3).

14. Gilroy, Against Race, 15.

15. I use the word ‘‘junction’’ here purposefully, as I want to call attention to the

‘‘thingness’’ of both categories. Belief in ‘‘black’’ and ‘‘white’’ as essence is a belief in the impossibility of their commingling. I want to call attention to the fact that their joined state is always already about their objectification as things, not persons. In Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s assessment of Jack Forbes’s Black Africans and Native Americans she finds promise in his urgent request for us to see that the racially inflected nomenclature of ‘‘conquest’’ and settlement dismantles the e≈cacy of the

black-white binary. Such promise relates to our ability to confront ‘‘today’s black- white (or di√erent-same) liberal multiculturalism’’ (‘‘Race before Racism,’’ 48). But while the argument here is that this binary might obscure other persons, this binary nevertheless continues to have psychic salience because we seem to under- stand black-white interactions as doing the same thing over and over in the kinds of stories we tell and interpretations we give to their relation.

16. See the coverage in the New York Times of the Congressional Black Caucus

and the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, notably Matt Bai, ‘‘Is Obama the

End of Black Politics?,’’ New York Times, August 6, 2008. In this article Bai discusses the generational divide among black leaders over Obama’s candidacy, highlighted in particular by an exchange between Rev. Jesse Jackson and his son, Jesse Jackson Jr. The latter, who was national co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, said he was ‘‘deeply outraged and disappointed’’ by his father’s comment in July 2008 that he wouldn’t mind castrating Obama. The comment was sparked, according to news coverage at the time, by Jackson’s anger over Obama’s admonishment of black fathers during a Father’s Day speech, and his ‘‘talking down to black people.’’ For more on this issue, see Perry Bacon, ‘‘Jackson Incident Revives Some Blacks’ Con- cerns about Obama,’’ Washington Post, July 11, 2008. See also Sheryl Gay Stolberg, ‘‘For Obama, Nuance on Race Invites Questions,’’ New York Times, February 8, 2010, which discusses responses from black scholars, politicians, policymakers, and members of the media to Obama’s handling of the ‘‘race issue’’ and his dedication to the black community. See also Jonathan Weisman, ‘‘Rev. Jackson Apologizes to Obama,’’ Washington Post, July 10, 2008; and John Kass, ‘‘Obama Backers on the Left Are Doing the Wincing Now,’’ Chicago Tribune, July 13, 2008.

17. Nietzsche might not seem to be the best philosophic interlocutor to my ideas

here, but Robert Gooding-Williams in ‘‘Supposing Nietzsche to Be Black—What Then?’’ in his book Look, a Negro!, has noted that his work can be useful for antiracist endeavors. As Gooding-Williams writes: ‘‘Because Nietzsche declines to flatter European culture, but represents it as the contingent, overdetermined prod- uct of slave morality, cruelty, decadence, and nihilism, he remains a useful model for any thinker—indeed, for any African American thinker—who would puncture European or now Euro-American pieties in order to date and imagine alternatives to the Eurocultrual legacies of white supremacy. Nietzsche’s colonialist fantasies can be a guide in this endeavor, for they repeatedly implicate his demystifying criticisms of European culture’’ (132). Even Jacqueline Scott proceeds with some caution: ‘‘Nietzsche might seem to be a counter intuitive source for contemporary race theorists, but he undertook the task of healing his culture by revaluing the prevailing concept of race’’ (‘‘The Price of the Ticket,’’ 151). And as James Winches- ter observes: ‘‘Nietzsche was clearly very interested in concept of race. The word appears more than two hundred times in the Colli-Montinari edition of Nietzsche’s

[he] is not the racist that some

claim that he is, but he does at times adopt some of the thinking on race that was

prevalent in his own time but is now widely questioned’’ (‘‘Nietzsche’s Racial Profiling,’’ 255). See also Preston, ‘‘Nietzsche on Blacks.’’

18. Saidiya Hartman in Scenes of Subjection has o√ered us a way to think through

work. It also appears frequently in his letters

pleasure as an impossibility, thus continuing what I will argue in chapter 2 is a

strong black feminist commitment to disarticulate pleasure from scenes of subjec- tion. Fred Moten in his critique of the sounding voice in In the Break has thought to reimagine Hartman’s work. In his analysis of Aunt Hester’s scream and engagement of Hartman’s reading of it, Moten notes that ‘‘Douglass’s is a primal scene for complex reasons that have to do with the connectedness of desire, identification, and castration that Hartman displaces onto the field of the mundane and the quotidian, where pain is alloyed with pleasure. However, this displacement some- how both acknowledges and avoids the vexed question of the possibility of pain and pleasure mixing in the scene and in its originary and subsequent recountings’’ (4; emphasis in original). I wholeheartedly agree with Moten’s view of pain and plea- sure as mixed feelings, and I understand his revision of Hartman’s work to open up a space toward the nature of the quotidian within scenes of subjection as a fruitful critical mode.